The top two photos were taken Nov 19, 2016. The bottom Nov 6, 2018. Same deer?

It has been a cold autumn, although there isn’t near as much snow as there was at this time last year. The ponds and shallow lakes have frozen over, which usually signals that the winter snowfall will be less, as opposed to more. I’m good with that, as shoveling the drive isn’t my favourite winter pastime.

Moose season is still open and although I have a bull tag, Lil and I haven’t been able to fill it. We were scuppered early in the season by a couple of poachers who were trying to shoot moose for which they had no valid tag. They wound up chasing them away from Lil – she had been sitting by a small meadow near a road and listening to the moose making their way to her, when these nitwits came by, spotted at least one moose from their vehicle, and jumped out after them. The moose ran between Lil and the poachers so she was afraid to shoot. I was a short distance away watching one of two spots – the frightened moose ran through the spot I wasn’t watching.

As I said, scuppered; we didn’t even get ID off the poachers who sped away in their truck after Lil yelled at them.

Then, a couple of weeks later we were headed home and there were 4 moose on the road, one a yearling bull which would have been just fine to tag. But, you can’t shoot from or down a road and the moose were able to escape in the thick bush and flooded timber beside the road.

We had a couple of other close encounters, but lately we are seeing far more wolf tracks than moose sign. The wolves are running up and down all the roads and trails (for miles and miles!), which are keeping (along with human night hunters) the moose deep in the forest, where it’s impossible to hunt them (and there aren’t all that many moose; I have the only adult tag issued for the Wildlife Management Unit we’re hunting).

It is amazing how many wolves there are in this area (timber, or gray wolves, not coyotes). Over the last decade or so, I’ve seen several dozen wolves. During the same time, I’ve seen less than 10 moose.

But although the wolves are for certain killing moose, it was white-tailed deer that were largely sustaining the wolf population over the winter. I would have thought that when the deer population collapsed a few years ago, wolf numbers would similarly collapse, but so far, that hasn’t happened. I suppose there were still enough deer around, but I can’t believe there are now enough deer left for the wolves to make it through this winter.

Worse, last winter was long and the snow was deep. Officially, it was classified as ‘severe’, which should have translated into a further decline in deer numbers.

And the evidence from this fall sure supports that. Driving north 50-60 km to our moose hunting spots this fall, we have yet to cut a deer track in the snow. During our walks for moose, we’ve seen a grand total of 3 deer tracks.

When I went to our traditional deer hunting areas, the picture is still grim. A few days hunting specifically for deer didn’t yield a single sighting. There were tracks – here and there – but very few rubs and I only came across a couple of small scrapes under two adjacent jack pine trees on a pipeline ROW.

Lots of wolf sign, though.

So given the lack of deer everywhere, I thought I might as well hunt deer on our property, given there are a small number of resident does and I figured a mature buck should, or could, show up from somewhere during the rut. We had seen a single spike buck off and on during the summer, but that was one buck I wasn’t prepared to harvest.

I also thought I might get a chance to take a wolf, as they have been regularly chasing the resident deer and are continuing to whittle them down.  In addition, it appears the wolves took our one, resident beaver just before the pond in front of the house froze over. All that work, fixing up the lodge and putting together a feed pile for the winter, for naught.

I watched the small field on our property several mornings and evenings without much luck. I did see, on a couple of occasions, the spike buck and what I assume is its twin sister, but that was about it. No wolves, either.

Then, on Nov. 6, a large buck appeared. I took a couple of photos and then decided I should harvest it. I had never taken a deer from our property (this is our 22nd year there), but I figured it might be the only chance I would get this year, so I took it.

It was a nice buck and the wear class age puts it at 5 ½ years. That’s amazing!

To have survived that long in the midst of such high wolf density is close to a miracle.

What’s also amazing is I think it could be the same deer I photographed two years earlier breeding a doe beside the house. After that, I had never seen that buck again.

Of course, I can’t be sure it’s the same buck. But the photos do suggest to me that it’s at least a possibility.

I do feel somewhat sad about killing it, but at least I know it’s passed on its DNA, which is a good thing.

And I’m still going to be hunting wolves – which were in the yard again last night. There’s just way too many, in my opinion.

 

 

Today the upland game bird season opened near my home, here in Ontario. I enjoy upland game bird hunting and in addition to hunting close to home, I have, for many years, tried to do a hunt out in the prairies as well. But this year, I won’t be doing a western bird hunt. Time to reminisce, I guess.
Below is a story I wrote a few years back that I wasn’t able to sell. There’s not many publications that will take this sort of story and given the sorry state of the magazine industry, it didn’t really surprise me I didn’t sell it.
The good news is, it’s now free for your reading pleasure.  Hope some of you enjoy the read.The bad news is Brill has left us, as has Daffy. We miss them greatly.

Dawn breaks cool and misty. We’re anxiously waiting, wanting to give the birds a chance to fly off their roosts to their morning quest for food. We haven’t seen or heard any other hunters rumble down the gravel road past our camp, an ATCO trailer furnished sparsely but lacking little, towards the river. The rolling mist brings the road into view sporadically and while the lack of traffic is comforting, it’s still early. We know there will be competition and we’ll just have to deal with it. Space is one of the best attributes the west has to offer and thank goodness there is usually more than enough for all those that may show up. An easterner, but having experienced the open range for years, it’s easy for me to understand why westerners often express feelings of claustrophobia when transplanted to forested landscapes.

Brian, who had a career as a short order cook during and immediately after his university years, asks us what we’d like to eat. During our many hunts together, he’s assumed the mantle of camp chef. It’s not something we ever discuss; it’s just the way it is and I assume that as long as we are hunting together, it will always be. But despite some mild hunger pangs, we elect to go with Glenn’s suggestion to ‘do a short hunt and come back to camp for a really big breakfast’. And maybe by then, Peter will have arrived.

Having decided to forego our morning meal, we instead attend to other duties, like cleaning up. Some of us have our best friends along on this trip who require our attention, so there are dog walks, watering and feeding tasks to do.

The dogs stay in the trailer with us, and not surprisingly, seem to know there is real hunting soon to be done. They are scuffling about, whacking their wagging tails on table and chair legs, us and anything else that’s close by. I appreciate that the dogs are reasonably well-trained and it’s unlikely their agitated behaviour will result in much breakage or upsets, as we learned long ago not to leave anything fragile within wagging distance.  Excited dogs remind me of nervous people; the commonality is that both seem to have to pee a lot.

I take my girl Brill, outside. After she takes care of her business, we eye each other and I can’t help but smile. Immediately, Brill begins to yap and run round around in circles. She loves to hunt upland birds and I muse she is recalling memories of past years when she’s joined us on our western hunts. I watch her as she continues on her vocal and circular routine and wonder what, exactly, is she thinking about? Birds, I suspect.

Our trailer squats on a flat spot where upland and bottomland collide. It’s ranch country, so up on top, of course, it’s wide and open and dry. There are some decadent stands of big cottonwoods in the river valley, along with thick shrubbery that extends up into the attendant coulees. We suspect the primary reason the grand trees don’t seem to be regenerating is from thrashing and grazing pressure, but we’re careful to keep our thoughts to ourselves, lest we alienate ourselves with our ranch hosts. Substantial acreages of the bottom land have been converted to irrigation farming, producing grains and other crops, but even here livestock is often run. In addition to cattle, a few sections hold horses, which these days seem to be kept mostly for traditional reasons and nostalgia. Across the road from the trailer, there’s the bull pasture, and to the east and west, interspersed by tree and other cover, a number of various sized fields irrigated with circular pivots.

Gazing at the vastness of the scene in front of me, it’s easy to understand why the west is often referred to as ‘Big Sky Country’. The term might have been coined in Montana, but southern Alberta has similar scenery. Plus, I can’t think of a better way to describe the unfettered view of miles and miles of rolling grassland with the occasional dot of a clump of poplars and a never-ending skyline. Even though it’s early in the morning and light levels are still low, there’s an obvious hint of green to the viewscape that greets my eyes.

In the fall, for the most part, the scenery out here is usually a simple mixture of yellows and browns, plus whatever colour the sky happens to be. When snow blankets the ground, it can be hard to separate heaven from earth.

It is a very dry place we hunt, although this year, on the drive in, we had commented on the height of the grass and how things didn’t seem near as brown as they have in the past. There were also vibrant splashes of reds and orange in the coulees. We conclude it must have been a good growing season, and hope this translates into a bumper crop of birds.

We had also talked how things actually appeared to be somewhat lush, although as we rolled along it struck me that ‘lush’ is probably not the best word to use in a country where the ground is largely carpeted with cactus. I glance down and see I’ve narrowly missed walking into small clump of prickly pears.

Brill has finally stopped her antics and leads me back inside the trailer. The ‘boys’ have just about got things cleaned up, and it looks like we are ready to go. My gun is already in the truck, so all I have to do is don my vest, make sure there are enough shells in my pack and pick up Brill’s water dish. Glenn has jugs of water for both us and the dogs. Rob pours himself a thermal cup of coffee and then ruins it by pouring in a dollop from a can of Carnation evaporated milk. Brian has made himself a thermos of hot tea, which he, as with Rob’s coffee, never has to share.

I suspect our plan to ‘have a quick hunt before anyone else arrives then come back to camp and have a big breakfast’ is doomed to fail, which I mention to Brian. He laughs and doesn’t need to remind me that it’s a plan we’ve made before and one which has never worked out. If we’re lucky, we may get to eat by early afternoon.

All of us engage in some non-serious banter then decide, like we always do, to head east past the ranch house and hunt on the edge of Reg’s largest pivot.

With dogs and hunters loaded into two trucks, the ‘Trailer Park Boys’, a name taken from the TV show and whom we are referred to by the locals, and only somewhat because of our accommodations and habits, finally pull out. It’s Day 1 of a new season.

It’s also opening day of the pheasant season so that’s going to be the focus of the morning hunt. The seasons for sharp-tails and gray partridge – we still call them Hungarians – have been open for a couple of weeks, but there is very little hunting pressure on them in the area, except by us, of course. However we don’t think we put much of a dent into the populations, even during those years when we do well. As such, they’re never far from mind and we don’t turn our nose up at them. All three species are, on occasion, on or near the pivot, although we’re far and away more likely to encounter ringnecks there. And the ringnecks here are all wild birds, as the closest areas stocked with pen-raised birds are more than 30 miles distant. We like this.

The fog has lifted, leaving behind a bit of a chill and dampness. The winds are light – there’s always a wind – and the skies remain overcast. It almost feels like rain, which would be unusual. In all the years we’ve hunted here, it’s seldom rained, and then never hard enough to keep us from being afield.

As we are getting out of the trucks we hear two cock birds crowing near the banks of the river, in a place where the willows are so thick that often the only way through them, even for the dogs, is to follow the cattle and deer trails. Glenn goes to block where the river, the willows and the edge of the irrigated field meet, while Brian and his Lab Daffy, Rob, Brill and I head into a strip of cover to try to flush some of the birds we know are there, because they always are.

Brill is a Wachtelhund, a German breed I have as a result of my friendship with Gerhard (Gary) Gehrmann. Gary is originally from Germany, having settled in Northwestern Ontario, where he owns a hunting lodge catering mainly to European hunters. Like many of the versatile German hunting dog breeds, the Wachtelhund can be used to help with hunting almost any game species, no matter the size. While only about 60 pounds, they can be fearless, and aren’t afraid to hold wounded wild boars, black bears or even timber wolves at bay.

I haven’t used Brill much on big game. My first Wachtel, Heidi, loved moose hunting, but these days there are few moose where I live, and as such, Brill hasn’t had many moose hunting opportunities. Based on her demeanor, I doubt she would show much interest. She is a great waterfowl retriever, but it’s upland birds that bring out the best in her.

The Wachtelhund’s, like Daff the Labrador, are flushing dogs, but with one very unique, and lovely trait. They bay – actually, it’s more of a bark – when on hot bird and small game like hare, scent (they don’t bark for waterfowl, which I find really amazing). The hotter the scent, the louder and more frequent the barking. In thick upland bird cover, this is a Godsend, as you don’t need to interpret body language as to whether the dog is acting ‘birdy’. You don’t even have to see the dog.

So, here we are on the first drive of the first day of our week-long hunt. Within a minute or so of release, Brill disappears into the cover of dense grasses, berry-laden buffaloberries and thorny shrubs like hawthorns and currants that border the edge of the pivot field and lead to a stand of mature poplars. It’s not long before I hear her bark, and then spot her – mostly just her tail, beating briar bushes – about 80 feet from me.

About 10 seconds after her first bark, she lets out another, then another. She’s now into ‘Shrill Brill’ mode, and within moments, Daff, Robbie and I are bounding over to join in the hunt. A few years earlier, on Brill’s first hunt with us, both humans and dogs quickly caught on that a barking Brill means action, and if you want to participate, you’d best get over to Brill ASAP.  It’s obvious those lessons haven’t been forgotten as I watch and participate in the pile-on that takes place on the small plot of cover Brill is working.

Facing a stampede of two and four legged hunters, two cock birds simultaneously hurtle from shelter and frantically claw skyward and toward the safety of the river. I get the 12 gauge Ruger Red Label OU up and start my swing, but before I can get a bead on a bird I hear Robbie touch off a shot. He’s always first off the mark. Always. Unfortunately, it’s a clean miss, as is my shot. There are two more shots with the same result.

Brill continues to run around barking her face off  – this usually lasts a minute or so after birds have flushed – while Daff ambles over and gives all of us that “What? You missed?” look he excels at. I call Brill off by repeating ‘Gone Away!’ several times. Finally, she gives up and comes to me, panting heavily, eager to check out the next piece of cover.

We make our way down to the willows that grow on the sandy shoreline of the river, when Brill starts barking again. Then all heck breaks loose. I hear at least a couple of birds flush, someone yells “Hen!”, then there’s shooting, more barking, more beating of wings, some indecipherable yelling and another couple of shots. Stuck in a miserable patch of ‘slaplings’, all I’ve seen through my vegetative curtain is a flash of brown. At last I break out into the open, just in time to see a bird sail into the muddy brown waters of the river, a few feathers still aloft, floating along on the soft breeze. Daff jumps into the strong, swirling current of the river off a steep bank edge and does an admiral job catching up to the floating pheasant. When he brings the now soggy rooster back to Brian, I see both have huge grins on their faces. It’s the only bird we have in hand.

It seems we flushed three roosters and two hens. At least we are on the scoreboard.

For the next couple of hours, we work our way around the perimeter of the pivot with similar results. That is, we flush quite a few pheasants, touch off a fair number of shots, and occasionally connect. Just as the sun begins to break through the clouds, we find ourselves where the pivot and coulees converge. Maybe there will be a flock of Huns there, or some sharp-tails. Maybe both. One can only hope.

Brill goes over to inspect a towering thatch of grass beside a patch of stunted poplar trees only marginally taller. I can’t see her, but hear her bark. I’m some distance away so I pick up the pace in concert with Brill’s escalating vocalizations.

A brown bird bursts from the edge of the poplars clucking, and I immediately recognize it as a sharp-tail. I manage to squeeze off a round before the sharpie has gone10 feet and am rewarded with a crumpled bird. Another sharpie does the same thing with identical results. A double? Close enough, and I’m elated. Brill retrieves both of the plump prairie birds and I stuff them into my vest alongside my one pheasant. The extra weight feels good.

For the past 30 years I’ve lived in the southwestern border of the boreal forest, which is less than two hours from the pancake flat eastern prairie fringe and a long days drive from where I am today. It’s lake country with excellent angling for the likes of walleye, lake trout and muskellunge, and there is good hunting for whitetails and moose (sometimes!), as well as ruffed grouse, spruce grouse and, in large cutovers and burns, even sharp-tails. It’s a wonderful place to live, with a further redeeming feature being its closeness to the wide open west. I love both.

I think about how lucky and blessed I am as I watch and listen to Brill, who’s ran back into the cover that coughed up the brace of birds now in my vest. Her occasional bark has none of the almost panicky nature it has when the scent is hot, so I assume she’s sniffing memories of what I’m now in possession of.

I can see that the Trailer Park boys and Daffy are making their way towards me. I’m wondering if Glenn or Robbie will suggest that maybe we should check one more patch of cover – there are now other hunters nearby and we’re still hoping to put up a covey of Huns – before heading back to the trailer for that ‘really big breakfast’. If they don’t, I know Brian will bring it up.

The skies have cleared and the temperature is climbing rapidly. Good friends, good dogs, wide open spaces and Alberta birds.

It’s going to be a good week.

Most fires burn the forest in a patchy manner. New growth sprouts quickly after a fire; species like moose fare well in the aftermath of fire. Kenora District is in Northwestern Ontario, a place where fires are omnipresent.

It’s September and nearing the end of what’s been a hot summer in much of the northern hemisphere. A hot summer, with lots of fires, almost everywhere. Because of climate change, the prediction is that the future will bring more of the same. Talking about climate change, at least here in Canada, seems to always be top of mind.

Most of the mainstream reporting on how to prevent a future of more fires appears to be concentrating on fighting climate change. I have seen a few reports suggesting we need to do a better job of planning and prevention, but such reporting is the exception, not the norm.

However, the way I see it, addressing fire management by trying to change the climate is largely a waste of effort, time and money.

We know there’s always been fire and there always will be fire. And everyone agrees that fire is a major force that needs to be reckoned with. But figuratively and literally, we can’t put out every fire.

With respect to wildfires, what I think we need to do is a much better job of integrating fire into land management actions; not an easy task, as everyone is afraid of fire, for very good reasons. I live in the woods so I’m well aware of the fire danger.

Regardless, it’s too bad in all the attention the fires have been getting there’s been very little information on how the fires will change the landscape in their aftermath, or on trying to explain the role of fire in ecosystems. Some of the recent wildfires that I’ve cursorily examined here in Ontario will very likely quickly improve habitat conditions for big game like moose and elk; the impacts on caribou, a species at risk, are more difficult to assess. But in the long run, fire is also good for caribou.

In British Columbia, I suspect some of the fires are burning through beetle infested forests – which could also be forests with tremendous potential to grow big game – but those are items I’m not hearing much about. The reporting is all about the extent of the fires, how much they are costing and the dangers to humans and our structures. And, how it’s all related to climate change.

One message that gets the short-shrift is that most of the areas where these fires are burning – again, almost everywhere in the world – are fire-dominated ecosystems. For example, boreal forests across much of Canada are typified by trees like jack pine, black spruce and aspen. These tree species dominate the boreal forest landscape because their rejuvenation depends on fires. The boreal forest is always burning up. If it ever stopped burning, it would soon begin to look very, very different.

Regardless of what we do we are going to continue to see wildfires; some years will be more an inferno than others.  Despite the fear and real dangers fires present, fire is actually a good thing; if fires were eliminated from the landscape, the environmental impacts could be great.

Fires renew the forest (many trees and shrubs regenerate best in the aftermath of fire) and many species of wildlife depend on young forests for their survival. Eliminating fire would risk putting many species in danger of extinction. Fires also help cleanse the landscape of disease and pestilence (ticks and pine beetle come to mind, but there’s a lot more).

Anyway, it’s impossible to eliminate all fires. And to repeat, it’s not even desirable.

What we can, and should do, is do a better job of managing for fires – growing fire-resistant forests adjacent to towns and cities would be a good start.

Just blaming climate change is…stupid.

The fawn flees for its life; days later, re-united.

The wolf situation continues to vex me.

Looking back, the general consensus is that white-tailed deer populations peaked in this area in or about 2007. They didn’t crash that year – the crash came a few years later, about 2014.

Regardless, since 2007, the numbers of deer have come down a lot.

There are still deer around. Some pockets with reasonably robust numbers can still be found. But there are large acreages where deer are gone where they were once abundant. Whether you’re out on the land, out on a ride, or hunting, you don’t see deer like you used to.

The numbers on our property are not particularly robust. Part of the issue is the fact that there seems to be as many wolves hunting our land as there were in 2007, when deer seemed to be as abundant as a plague of mice.

To wit; the other morning, Lil came into the house saying something big was splashing about in the waters of the beaver pond to the left of the house.

Looking out from off the deck to look for the sounds of the splashings, a fawn soon appeared, swimming frantically.

We suspected it was fleeing for its life, being chased by wolves. We’d seen that scene before.

We watched the small spotted deer swim the length of the pond, then scramble out the far end and race into the cover on the edge of a field. We didn’t see any wolves.

We had a small task to do outside, which took only a couple of minutes. On a hunch, I walked down our laneway to the field, to see if the deer, or the wolves, or whatever, might be there.

Still in the laneway, I stopped near a small building and looked over the field. Nothing. I scanned the length and breadth of the small field again (it’s only about 3 acres) when suddenly, right there in front of me, right in the open, were two timber wolves. It was if they had materialized out of thin air; regardless, there they were. They were big and they were thirty yards in front of me.

I raised both my hands, which caught their attention and then yelled at them to “Go on, get out of here!” Which, quite promptly, they did. In an instant, they were gone.

There was no sign of the fawn.

Over the next couple of days, from the house, I watched a doe, a couple of times, move slowly along an edge of the pond, feeding, standing, looking around, all alone. I also saw, briefly, a pair of young does, but no evidence of a fawn. We feared the worst.

Then on the 4th morning after the fawn swimming, wolf encounter drama, a doe and fawn showed up on the far side of the pond, on a smooth rock opening across from where we watched the fawn during her escape run. We’re pretty sure it was the same fawn, as all spring and summer we had seen only a single fawn anywhere near the house. The fawn had always been near the pond, on the west half of the pond, which is where the doe and fawn were. The pair stayed close together for well over an hour; perhaps they were re-bonding after the recent close encounter of the worst kind – the doe spent a lot of time licking and grooming the fawn.

The literature is quite clear that on northern ranges, where the main deer predator is the timber wolf, high deer numbers only occur when good habitat and mild winters occur simultaneously over a period of several years (e.g 10+). However, high deer abundance cannot be sustained over the long-term; eventually the population crashes, usually in the aftermath of the return of a series of severe winters and deteriorating habitat quality. The rapid decline, or crash, is abetted by heavy levels of wolf predation.

Wolf predation continues to depress the deer population and can be quite effective at preventing its recovery. The deer herd can dwindle to become next to nothing; if there is nothing else to eat (i.e., no moose or elk or caribou) wolf numbers too, will inevitably crash.

How long that scenario plays out can vary, but may take several years. For deer to make a meaningful recovery wolf numbers need to go down and environmental conditions need to improve. Where I live, neither of these have to date occurred (the winters since 2014 have mostly been categorized as moderate to severe by natural resource officials). In addition, there are few moose, deer or caribou in the area, so the wolves are definitely running out of things to eat.

Perhaps they are eating bears, which is a distinct possibility.

Until the last 15 years or so, I’d go years between wolf sightings. Now, I seldom go a month without seeing a wolf, or wolves.

I don’t hate wolves and as a retired wildlife biologist I understand wolves are important in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

But in some areas, at times, there can be too many wolves.

I think we need more honest discussion on how to do a better job of managing wolves. For one, I think many of the present policies and legislation that pertain to how wolves are to be managed need improvements.

At this point in time, fewer wolves in the region where I live and play would, I believe, be a good thing. But any suggestion that perhaps we should be actively managing for fewer wolves (or bears) is met by an attitude by many that borders on derision.

Fewer wolves (and bears) now would lead to more deer and moose and would also benefit the wolves themselves. Right now, there seems to me to be a serious imbalance between predator and prey, a situation that simply can’t last. But who knows?

Like Yogi Berra might have said, ‘it’s hard to predict the future, because it hasn’t happened yet’.

Our house is oriented to face due south. The deck is open, but covered, so it’s more like an open porch.  Built into an old sandpit on a hillside the deck is about 3m from the ground, which slopes down to the pond, which the house overlooks. The best view the house offers is from the deck. From the deck, you get to see a lot that goes on in and around the pond.

But if you are inside the house, you still get to see stuff when you are looking out a window.

This year, one thing we have watched happen from the deck and through the windows of the house is game bird production. Mostly high numbers of chicks hatched, but also mostly poor success in keeping a brood together and alive.

There were many different species of waterfowl that hatched out a clutch of chicks that we saw on the pond, from the house, during their first days of life. We’ve seen a brood of grebes, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, mallards and Canada geese. There was a single brood from each of those species; the young mallard ducklings showed up most recently, so maybe the hatching season isn’t over yet, but I think it’s getting late in the breeding season. There was a pair of green-winged teal on the pond for weeks early in the season, but we never saw them with chicks and the adults are now elsewhere. Ring-necks hung around for a while, but although they, like the teal, have nested here in the past, we don’t think they tried nesting here this year.

We’ve also seen a little flock of ruffed grouse scurry by the front of the deck a couple of times.

We have counted close to 40 young, all broods and species (ducks and grouse) combined. Quite a few, I think.

But from there, it seems to have been a downhill slide for chick survival. All the Canada geese goslings are dead. One of the young grebes appears to have disappeared.  Lately, we have seen only two of the hooded merganser ducklings with their mom – the brood started out with 11. We haven’t seen the wood ducks for many days now; there were a couple of orphans on the pond for a couple of days, but those too have now disappeared.  We think the mallards are still more or less intact. The grouse brood was small the both times we saw them.

It made me think about how what happens at the micro level, may or may not reflect what goes on at the macro level. Or vice versa. What we’ve observed is moderate to good hatching success for some, but apparently not too stellar when it comes to survival.

What we saw in and around our pond – the outlook from the house – was a good lesson in how dramatic the result at the macro level could be. If survival on ponds like ours is similar over a wide area, then the fall outlook for game birds might be grim. On the other hand, if hatching success was similar, but survival was better than on our pond, then the game bird outlook for this fall could be quite rosy.  Or, results could be .  . . mixed.

Of note is that during some forest travelling, I have been seeing quite a few ruffed grouse broods. But the number of chicks in all the flocks I’ve seen is on the small side. But a lot of small flocks could still mean a good fall hunt for ruffies. That’s where I’m leaning, as there did seem to be good numbers of adult grouse this spring, and I did hear a lot of drumming.

In the meantime, it’s time to do a bit of fishing and concentrate on berry picking. Around the house, the Saskatoons, blueberries and raspberries are quite good, right now. It is also looking good for choke cherries, which have just started to ripen. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a bumper crop of pin cherries or Canada plums, which, like the choke cherries, are only beginning to ripen.

Further afield, the wild berry crop looks to be . .  . mixed.

It’s finally summer and it actually feels like it. I even managed to catch a few rays and start a tan for the first time in a few years.

It was a long, long winter. Snow arrived in late October and didn’t melt until the end of April. But it has finally warmed up nicely and best of all, there’s been just enough rain to keep the veg growing well while not giving the mosquitoes a leg up. Even deer flies are tolerable this year – I suspect the great hatch of dragonflies is helping on that front. Wood ticks were terrible, though. When doing our elk monitoring (critter cams) I had to literally brush of hundreds at times. Sometimes there were also deer ticks in the mix, which potentially carry Lyme disease.  Can’t stand ticks . . .

From a wildlife perspective, it’s been an interesting past several weeks. For the first time, there was a yellow-headed blackbird in the yard. It only stayed for an hour or so; then was gone. There’s a black-billed cuckoo that makes the rounds around the pond almost every morning – we hear it, but haven’t seen it. A pair of pied-bill grebes nested on the pond – also a first – and hatched out young. Yesterday there were five of them, down one, I think. A hooded merganser showed up with nine young followed by a wood duck with ten ducklings. Still waiting to see whether there’s a hatch of mallards and green-winged teal.

There are at least a few ruffed grouse hens with broods along the road with young (so far, they have not been run over by vehicles, but I fear it’s only a matter of time) and there was a woodcock that was also acting broody and also on the road. The tree swallows are busy feeding their young in the boxes we put up and an eastern phoebe has young in her nest under the eaves of our old cabin. Lots of other birds around, too.

The painted turtles have been laying eggs in front of the house, but the skunks come at night and have been digging up the nests; we hope some will survive.

The pair of Canada geese that nested on the beaver house hatched out five but tragedy struck – not sure exactly what happened – suffice to say all five goslings perished.  After a couple of days, the adults left. So for the second year in a row, the geese are gone.

I have seen one new-born fawn whitetail. Lots of bears in the neighborhood, including some big ones; and there are still wolves around.  Not sure what happened to the beavers. Three survived the winter, but for the last couple of weeks we have only been seeing one, and only sporadically. Maybe the wolves/bears got the other two.

Saw a porcupine one day while coming home from work (a rarity in these parts). Don’t need or want porcupines nearby. Neva, our dog, has not learned to keep away from them.

When the ice was melting, a very pregnant otter was lolling about for a couple of days. Since then, we’ve only seen her once. Not sure where she is . .  .

The pond is teeming with minnows and hordes of tiny tadpoles are rapidly forming into frogs (most of the ones I’ve seen appear to be wood frogs). The cacophony each evening of singing frogs has been deafening.

Finally, it looks like it might be a good year for at least some of the wild berries. Choke cherries, pin cherries, service (Saskatoon) berries and blueberries are some that are right now looking promising. Yum.

So, I’m ready for the heat to continue and hoping the lazy, hazy days of summer will linger for several weeks. Much, much better than the dreary days of winter where the only life seen is often, at best, a few birds at the feeder.

Yep, time to enjoy country living and not dwell too much on the shenanigans being foisted on us daily by politicians and masses of do-gooders (often the same people).

And do a bit of fishing, which, by the way, has been mostly pretty good.

Ontario is days away from the date when voters get to mark their ballots and vote for a candidate they hope will become a member of the next parliament.  It’s been an interesting campaign, but I’ve heard next to nothing as to what the parties think about with respect to fishing and hunting or, other than carbon – principally CO2 – any thoughts they have about the environment.

It seems weird to me that these days caring for the environment, being ‘green’, or simply having an environmental conscience, is striving to reduce emissions from the use of fossil fuels. No talk about wildlife habitat management, fish and game harvest strategies or how wildlife concerns might be accommodated during mega projects like twinning the TransCanada highway. There was a bit of discussion on future development in the ‘Green Belt’, a swath of land with around the major metropolis of Toronto where development is tightly controlled, but other than that, nary a peep.

It’s as if all ecological issues will be magically resolved by focusing all of our attention on the use of fossil fuels. It’s the magic bullet that’s going to solve everything. And if we don’t do it, we’re doomed. All would be lost.

I think that’s a foolish attitude, but in much of Canada, at least, it seems to be a dominant meme. It is for sure here in Ontario.

In Ontario, there are three main political parties vying for power.

The Liberals have ruled for the past 15 years and have already conceded defeat, although the premier is now voicing contrition and tearfully requesting the populace keep her party in power in a minority government by voting in at least a small bunch of Liberals. Fish and wildlife management (except for carbon – we are in a cap-and-trade system with Quebec and California) was, during their time in office, never of much interest to the Liberals.

The Progressive Conservatives (a name that signals a political oxymoron if ever there was one) haven’t said much lately and didn’t say much about F &W during the long period of Liberal reign. However, the last time they were in power, they actually accomplished a lot for anglers and hunters; for one, they vastly increased the number and extent of Parks and Protected Areas, with most of these areas continuing to allow for hunting, fishing and trapping. During this campaign, they have proposed to do away with the ‘carbon tax’.

The New Democrats have been, like the conservatives, rather silent on matters that pertain to fishing and hunting, with the exception of being ardent supporters of the hunting and fishing rights of Aboriginals and Métis; like the Liberals, they are also big on focusing on reducing our use of fossil fuels and thus addressing climate change. They are also anti-nuclear. Last time they were in power was a political fiasco; ineptitude and bungling typified their time in office and extended to the fish & wildlife management file.

There are other parties running as well, including the Greens and the Libertarians, both of whom are fielding dozens of candidates, but according to all the pollsters they have little likelihood of actually electing anybody (apparently the Greens have a realistic chance of having a single member elected).

All I can hope for is that whoever wins, the next few years will be better for us anglers and hunters and the fish and wildlife we care about than the last decade has been.

But, since no one has been talking, who’s to know? Pretty sad, really.

If you’re not from Ontario, I hope that the situation is more upbeat in your jurisdiction. I know some places are worse, but I also know some places are better. Let’s all hope that the future will bring more of ‘better’.

Different species avoid bad weather – winter – in different ways.

It’s easy to see why the global warming issue is so big. It’s all about the weather, and every last one of us is affected by the weather.  Despite hopes, beliefs and hard effort to control the weather, the best way to minimize harm that might come to you because of bad weather is to use protection: a rain coat as opposed to a rain dance.

Our obsession with the weather goes back a long way; for example, there is a lot of talk of weather – and controlling it – in the Bible. While I haven’t done an extensive check, I’m sure weather plays a big part in all religions and cultures. Simply put, we are weather dependents and, using again a quote from a country song, “It’s always been that way.”

In Canada, winter weather is usually the worst.  The majority of birds in this country migrate south, en-masse, to avoid winter weather. Some animals also move to areas with better winter conditions, but many others have evolved to find a good spot to lie down and go to sleep for the winter. They only wake up when the weather improves. The rest have to face winter weather head-on and find a way to cope with the cold and snow and the storms.  It’s a tough go to try and survive a winter when, for months on end, the food supply never increases, only dwindles; temperatures are constantly below freezing and everything is covered with snow.

Because of the significant impacts winter weather has on wildlife, wildlifers use a variety of techniques, including indices, to assess the impact of winter on particular types of wildlife. In states and provinces where winters regularly decimate white-tailed deer populations, winter severity indexes were developed that generate numbers that are used to categorize the severity of a winter and provide estimates as to the number of deer that likely perished over-winter. The categories are generally “Mild, Moderate and Severe”; the higher the number, the more severe the winter.

The winter that just passed in the area where I live, was long, windy, cold and snowy.  The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which has as one of its responsibilities the management of deer, categorized the winter as “Severe” in the district where I live. There’s no doubt it was a hard winter on the local herds of white-tailed deer.

Still, some deer survived. I’ve seen a few around.

A few years ago, deer were common, sometimes abundant, hundreds of kilometers north of where they’re common today. But a series of hard winters, and some other factors, pretty much rubbed them out. I recently authored a paper with a colleague that showed how deer (and moose) populations have fluctuated in this area over the past many decades; we concluded that landscape level perturbations (e.g., fire) are the main reasons these populations fluctuate wildly over time; and of course, much of these perturbations and related events are weather related. You can read the paper here: http://alcesjournal.org/index.php/alces/article/view/227

Animals cope with the elements by living in habitats that provide them with the essentials of life, namely food and cover. If you are in the business of wildlife management in North America, part of the job is likely addressing habitat management issues. There’s still a strong belief by biologists that habitat is often, if not usually, the key factor affecting the survival of a species. If habitat is suitable, and there’s enough of it, most animal populations should do okay. Habitat isn’t easy to describe, and it’s used differently by different animals.

A feature of good habitat is the ability to provide relief from the weather. Deer often congregate in specific areas, usually called a ‘yard’, where both food and cover are available.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, effort and money that could be spent on trying to do a good job of wildlife habitat management is, I think, being spent on trying to manage the weather. It’s a real flip-flop, and not without consequences. Spending billions on trying to manage the weather (e.g., climate change) is increasingly being viewed with much scepticism. Some say it’s environmentalism. I think it’s mostly virtue signaling – spending lots of money being ‘green’, without much in the way of actual, tangible results.

Personally, I can think better ways to spend money on conservation of wildlife than squandering millions (billions?) on windmills that are notorious bird and bat killers and don’t really make a dent in reducing CO2 emissions.

However, priorities do differ amongst jurisdictions and on-the-ground habitat management programs do exist in some places. In some – the state of Michigan comes to mind – they can be surprisingly robust. Elsewhere they may be close to non-existent. If sound habitat management programs aren’t in place and funded in the area where you live, there’s a good chance many species of wildlife near you are floundering.

Habitat management is not the be-all and end all when it comes to looking after wildlife, but there’s little doubt good habitat, and habitat management policies, is a whole lot better than poor habitat and a focus on reducing our ‘carbon footprint ’.

I’ll be addressing habitat issues a bit more thoroughly in future postings.

Wolves come in a wide variety of sizes and colours.

I’m back to posting on my blog . . . .I hope to post regularly, but also likely infrequently.

Blogging is, or can be, hard work. Still, I’m doing it because it can provide a forum for ideas that hopefully helps more than just me in understanding events that are of concern to a lot of us. Certainly, I am a follower of several blogs and I get some very interesting and useful information from them.

At any rate, the reason(s) I’m going to try this (blogging) again is that I can’t help but be astounded at some of the going-ons in wildlife world. Wolf management, for example.

Let’s look at that one. It’s appropriate, I think, especially given that I’ve always had a photo of a wolf as the ‘signature’ of my blog.

I have used a wolf photo, in part, because wolves evoke a wide range of thoughts and ideas amongst anyone with an interest in wild things. It’s been that way for a long time – as the song says, “it’s been that way since the get-go.”

Historically, wolves were believed to be ‘bad’ by the majority of people, at least in Europe (those North American ‘colonizers’) and getting rid of wolves was ‘good’. It’s not hard to see how those ideas came to be, considering rural folk in Europe, for hundreds and even thousands of years, were mostly poor, didn’t have guns and were often reliant on a farming existence that was quite fragile. Wolves killed and ate livestock and back in those days, probably killed and ate more than a few people. So it made a lot of sense to try and get rid of wolves; which they did, eventually.

While this was going-on, Europeans began colonizing North America, bringing along with them their ideas about what to do about wolves (get rid of them).

Which, again, they did; much of what became the lower 48 along with large swaths of southern Canada became wolf-free zones.

But there were still a lot of wolves in the world and the wolf did not go extinct.

In Eurasia, large numbers of wolves continued to persist, particularly in Russia; in Canada and Alaska, wolves have always ranged far and wide.

With wolves gone across large landscapes, but still abundant elsewhere, the ‘let’s get rid of all the wolves’ meme lost pre-eminence.

It was replaced by the ‘we like wolves a lot!’ meme.

One outcome was a re-classification of the wolf. In the minds of both the public and government, the wolf changed from being a lowly varmint to the more lofty status of a noble game animal. To provide them with love and protection, wolves, in places, were put on endangered species lists, which brought with it money and the implementation of many a wolf recovery program.

Largely a result of the new meme, wolves today are more widespread and abundant than they have been in over a hundred years.

They’re back with a vengeance in the western mountains of the US, much of the mid-western forests and are occasionally reported in New England.  Of course, there still abundant over much of Canada and Alaska.

And coyotes are almost everywhere outside the tundra. Then there are wolves that people don’t really know how to classify except to say they’re some sort of wolf . . . Newfoundland, once free of all wild canids, now has coyotes and . . .some other canids.

Over in Europe, wolves have also been on the path to recovery. Hiking their way across and out of Poland, wolves have successfully recolonized Germany, to the point where there is now a growing rumbling that wolf numbers are getting out of control. In late 2017, there were estimated to be 60 packs of wolves in Germany, 13 more than the year before. The total number of wolves is officially estimated to be 150-160, although unofficial estimates say there is more than twice that number. Wolves are also showing up in other European countries, including France and Spain.

With many landscapes now occupied (infested?) with wolves, I think it’s time to move away from ‘we like wolves a lot!’

Unfortunately, that meme is not yet dead, although it has been wounded.

For example, the old mantra that wolves only kill the very old, the very young, the sick and the injured has been thoroughly de-bunked.

Wolves will try and catch and kill and eat whatever they can.

In the mountains of northern Idaho and southern British Columbia, the South Selkirk herd of caribou is down to three animals. What’s the main culprit behind their disappearance, despite decades of effort at maintaining and increasing their numbers?  Wolf predation. Even though it is astounding that wolf culls were actually attempted, they weren’t successful in getting rid of the wolves there (maybe it’s a lost art) and so the wolves have been catching, killing and eating all the caribou.

In Canada’s Pukaskwa National Park on the northern shore of Lake Superior, the wolves finally caught and killed and ate every last caribou a few years ago.

This past winter, Ontario did an emergency capture and transfer of caribou off Michipicoten Island. This was done because it was feared wolves there were going to catch and kill and eat all the caribou on the island.

So it’s clear that wolves can drive herds of ungulates, at least locally, to extinction.

It’s also become clear that in addition to killing them all, wolves are capable of killing enough to reduce populations to low levels and then keep them there. It’s called a predator pit – after falling in, there’s no way out. It’s been observed with respect to white-tailed deer in the northern forests of Minnesota and a number of small, scattered herds of woodland caribou wherever they occur.

That’s proof of the pudding that there is no ‘balance’ of nature. Nature is never ‘in balance’. There is a constant struggle for survival that goes on and in the end, most species actually lose out. There are vastly more species that have gone extinct than survive today. And the vast majority of extinctions have had nothing to do with, to use a phrase, humankind.

So knowing what we now know, I think it’s time to get rid of and replace ‘we like wolves a lot!’ with something a bit more reasonable. A lot of people are thinking along those lines.

Something is needed that will result in changes to the present, often absurd, over-protection of wolves way of doing things.

Like here in Ontario, where moose populations have been in decline for years despite severe and increasing restrictions on hunting. The answer seems to be to give wolves even more protection.

Now there’s a proposal in the works to ban wolf harvest completely from a huge swath in the south-central part of the province to protect the ‘eastern’ wolf, something that, with some half-hearted scrutiny, can be shown to be completely bogus, as there is no such animal. The ‘eastern’ wolf, described in part as a rather smallish wolf, occurs sympatrically with gray (timber) wolves. The wolves breed indiscriminately with one another and produce viable offspring of various size and colour. Biology 101 says that makes them the same species. But when you’re hitched to the ‘we like wolves a lot!’ bandwagon, you don’t let sound science get in your way.

It’s worth noting that scientists in the USA, who have analyzed the data, don’t recognize the eastern wolf as a separate species of wolf. They are more along the lines of wolves being Canis soup.

Over in Germany, wolves are still provided with complete protection. With numbers rapidly expanding, there are dire consequences to wild herds of deer and livestock being predicted.

Fighting over how to manage wolves in the US continue to escalate; in some areas,elk herds are taking a pounding from high wolf predation.

With all these conflicts, one would think that reasonable compromises regarding wolf management could be found, but none appear to be anywhere, at least not on the immediate horizon.

So despite all the evidence that shows there is absolutely no doubt that there can be too many wolves and that managing wolves using sound wildlife management  should be a no-brainer, the ‘we like wolves a lot!’ continues to rule the day. It can’t last . . .

Meanwhile, over on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, the wolf population – which arrived naturally – is down to a single animal. The Isle, which got rid of all the wolves naturally, pushed the US Parks Service to produce plans to re-introduce 20-30 wolves to the island over the next three years at a cost of about 2 million dollars.

I really think it’s time to change that meme.

Well, that’s my back to blogging post. Hope you enjoyed it.

I’m done with this blog. I hope some of you have either enjoyed some posts or got some information that you found useful. Maybe in the future, I might try blogging again. Regardless,  there are the posts I’ve published and maybe there is something there you might like. All the best to everyone who visited my blog. I wish you all well.

*note* Feb 21, 2018. I see there is traffic on the blog almost every day. So  as I said above, I think I will be blogging again in the not too distant future. I’m contemplating using the same site (this one!) and the same name, but instead of being only about wildlife, it will be expanded to ‘wild life’. In other words, fish, insects, vegetation, etc. And I’ll be changing the format, meaning sometimes there will be a photo (or several), maybe video, or simply text, with no standard length (originally, I tried to keep posts very similar in appearance and length). I won’t get into all the details as to why I took a long hiatus from blogging: let’s just say I needed to recharge. So expect something to start happening over the next month or so…..