March May Be the Muddy Month….
March may be the muddy month in the bottom third of the state, but on some days, spring’s smells, sounds and sights intoxicate us, while offering visions of new greens and open water, lying just around the corner.
In southern and central Maine as well as the Midcoast, the air at times shouts spring to the dimmest observer. Newly arriving birds from the South sing songs that we haven’t heard in months, and skies often have a pale-blue hue like summer. Spring nips at our heels by mid-morning.
Meanwhile, in northern and eastern Maine, snowmobilers are racing along trails on deep snow bases, and in the lengthening days, snow-goers are just loving the warmer rides. It is Maine sledding at its finest. Folks actually burn their faces now, so sunscreen proves a must in March’s harsh sunlight.
Yes, we really see two Maines this month – upstate and downstate – one early spring and the other more of winter!
Ice-fishing booms this month as warm fresh water on the ice runs down old ice holes drilled in previous days, which open in the hot sun. This sometimes pushes the feed button on for fish – and flags fly.
Where legal, open-water fishing in rivers and streams begins and can offer sport this month, if rains and melting don’t raise the current up over the banks. Powerful, high water flows trigger fast fishing more than cold water does. Low, cold water allows casters to work offerings on bottom – close to fish mouths. It’s not a fast-fishing time, but limited action is possible.
Open water in tributaries and outlets often extends into ponds and lakes, and in much of the lower half of Maine, many of these places are legal for open-water angler to fish. Salmonids and black bass congregate at these ice-free places, too.
The first half of the split crow season continues and gives smoothbore shooters or long-range marksman with flat-shooting calibers a chance at these highly intelligent birds. Shotgunners use calls, decoys and simple blinds, and the long-range-rifle lovers sneak just close enough to line up the cross hairs on these 1-pound birds with 39-inch wingspans – large for a bird.
Hardcore turkey hunters scout now, particularly when snow melts early and fields and hardwood ridges with southern exposures are easy walking in shallow or no snow. Later in the month, turkeys begin acting in the same manner that they might in late April or early May. Serious hunters also practice their shooting a lot now to check the chokes and loads in their turkey smoothbores.
Sportsmen shows this month draw folks longing for spring sport, and old friends meet in these crowded shows or folks make new friends there. Camaraderie is strong at these fun events.
Some folks (like this writer) love to go to places like L.L. Bean, Cabela’s or the Trading Post and poke around, which gives us a feeling of spring being just around the corner. This is a time of impulse buying.
This month, small dinner parties with the spoils of the forests, waters and home gardens excite folks, who like leisurely meals with good wine or beer, china, crystal glasses and linen napkins.
It’s March, not the best month, but any month in Maine is a good one.
Tips of the Month
Shoot Great Songbird Photos
It’s fun and easy to shoot photos of songbirds from the warmth of the indoors – while sipping hot coffee. It takes a proper setup, though.
Beginning with this thought…. Hang a birdfeeder on the southwest corner of the house beyond a west-facing window, where a morning sun shines onto the feeder from the southeast, lighting the bird at a quartering angle that creates superb shadows for a 3-dimensional effect.
Put the camera on a steady tripod and use at least a 300mm lens – 500mm is even better but can cost $10,000-plus. A 300mm lens works fine, unless someone decides to become a full-time photographer – meaning making a full-time living. Then, spring for a 500mm or 600mm choice.
Next, put the camera and lens next to the window and focus on a bird, attempting to get portrait shots as well as behavioral. Spot meter the brightest light on the bird and bracket for that light exposure. Say if F-8 is the correct exposure, shoot that setting as well as one f-stop down and one f-stop up.
Next, set up a tall pole – say 12 feet high above the ground – and wire fresh conifer limbs to the pole. Then, shoot photos of birds on these limbs with blue sky or clouds in the background. Black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, redpolls, American goldfinches and the rest of the typical species around Maine’s winter feeders keep the good times rolling morning after morning.
Your “work” will have folks asking, “How’d you get such a shot?!”
Warming Trend? Let’s Make Lemonade
A corny old saying goes like this: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a grand thought for outdoor folks in 2014.
This lemonade analogy begins with this thought:
Since Old World settlers arrived in the New World in increasing number in the 1600s, they have introduced 1,000 plant species and counting that have become naturalized.
Watch the Tour de France on television this summer, a 3-week extravaganza on NBC Sports. If you have an HD television, take note of plants on European roadsides, plants such as daisy, coltsfoot, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, dandelion, hawkweed, mullein and on and on it goes. These Eurasian plants arrived here centuries ago, and that bike race shows the species in full color in France.
In the “News and Tidbits” section of the “Almanac” this month, one item mentioned that Old World settlers also began introducing what now amounts to over 450 new insects (including honeybees!) starting in the early 1600s.
NIMBYism is alive and well these days, but the 1,000-plus plants and 450-plus insects and animals are here – and they’re not leaving. Please get over it and get accustomed to them, folks.
Climate change offers another point. If the temperature is indeed increasing, and most intelligent folks believe it is, buy sandals, shorts and short-sleeve shirts and – please excuse this repeated utterance – make lemonade.
I’m an avid salmonid angler, and these families of salmon, trout and char need cold water. If they don’t have it, they’ll disappear, but black bass will increase and saltwater species such as bonito will move north up the coast. For lemonade lovers, that’s a plus.
Also, folks such as myself who are avid bicyclists may like rising temperatures to expand our pedaling season. Worse things could happen. And by the way, warming winters will increase white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse populations.
In short, let’s fight the good fight to change what society perceives as a negative, and in the meantime, let’s also make lemonade – a solid tip of the month.
Where the Action Is
Smelting Tidal Rivers
As nights along coastal Maine rivers offer warmer weather and ice still remains safe, smelting for anadromous rainbow smelts continues with great action for folks who hire commercial smelt shacks or put out their own shanties along the following rivers and streams.
Cathance River and West Branch of Denham Stream (please check DeLorme Atlas, Map 6, A-4) in Bowdoinham just off Merrymeeting Bay and Eastern River (Map 6, A-5 and Map 13, E-1) are top spots to have a rendezvous with smelts, often a nighttime affair that’s as much party time as sport. Map 13 shows the Dresden stretch, a popular spot.
The prize is a small, delicious, white-meat fish. Angling for them is an early spring rite in Maine, and it’s difficult to find an outdoorsman who has never fished for these small, delectable beauties at least once.
Coyote Hunting Booms This Month
This month, coyote hunting excites predator-hunters in the know:
• Longer days are warming up temperatures – even at night – often far more pleasant than January vigils in -10 degrees.
• Settling, crystalline snow creates better mobility for coyotes – and hunters – and these canines are ultra-active in feeding after winter’s rigors and looking for a mate.
Southern Maine offers field edges and power lines for setting up ambushes in this following region with its plentiful hares and deer to attract coyotes – Acton on the southwest border (Delorme Atlas, Map 2, B-1) Buxton on the southeast (Map 3, A-1 and Map 5, E-1), Fryeburg on the northwest (Maps 4, A-1 and 10, E-1) and Otisfield on the northeast (Maps 5, A-1 and 11, E-1). Routes 117, 113, 5, 25, 160, 11, 110 and secondary roads off these highways offer hunting spots galore for predator hunters to sit and call these wily canines.
Southwest of Bangor, Routes 7, 139, 69, 9, 202, 222 and side arteries of these major highways provide huge, numerous fields and clear-cuts, great places to set up and call coyotes.
News and Tidbits
Northern Red Oaks’ Latitude Range
Northern red oaks reign as Maine’s most northern indigenous oak species, and in fact, this tree’s range in this state, depending on the region, stops south of the Canadian border. In other places, these trees reach latitude 48 degrees, such as in eastern Canada. On the North American continent, Bur oaks extend a bit further into Canada and reach latitude 53 degrees in Manitoba, and on the other side of the Atlantic, English oak grows as far north as western Norway near the warm waters of that country.
Red Oaks and Declaration of Independence
Northern red oaks rank as a favorite tree species for Maine deer and squirrel hunters because whitetails and grays target acorns for forage, but this oak has another accolade, according to Oak: the Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence with ink made from the wasp-produced oak galls on these trees.
When Maine poachers shoot a deer out of season, they often eviscerate the animal, skin it and bone the meat for freezing (or canning in the old days).
Folks who worried about the local warden finding the remains behind their house would throw the hide, bones and viscera (often in a cardboard box) into a hole left by a blown-over tree, and then, saw the trunk off and push the torn-up roots back into place, covering the evidence – very effective.
That poacher’s trick made it difficult to lift the root structure, and this task would get more difficult as years passed. Then, perhaps centuries later, archaeologists will find bones buried deeply in the ground in these natural holes and wonder who dug such a deep grave for an animal.
Pileated woodpeckers concentrate on carpenter ants as their main forage. They make oblong holes in trunks as they feed, even in the dead of a Maine winter.
Common Redpolls Basking in Heat Now
Common redpolls summer in the subarctic, where they breed. Come winter, redpoll forage grows scarce in this northern region of the world, so this songbird flies south to places such as Maine to bask in our winter warmth, while feeding on a far more abundant seed crops left from the previous spring and summer. This species is a welcome addition to this writer’s birdfeeder in winter, but some years, redpolls don’t show up here. That hit or miss nature endears the species to Maine birders.
In the opposite extreme from redpolls, astute listeners in March lie in bed each dawn, hearing new sounds of bird species returning from southern climates to our northern cold. Each new one makes spring feel closer, though snow still covers the ground enough for snowmobilers, and ice covers lakes, ponds and even rivers for ice anglers.
A Maine moose may have as many as 120,000 ticks in winter, although 40,000 is more common – still a pile of ticks. When vehicles hit moose, the impact may knock these critters off into the seat area as the animal crashes through the window.
Insect Invasions Since 1600s
Since Old World settlers first arrived in the 1600s, they have inadvertently introduced over 450 insects, most of them in the Northeast. Some have devastated indigenous species – black vine weevils, chestnut blight fungus, pine blister rust and beech scale insect, just to name four.
Francois-Joseph LaPointe at the University of Montreal conducted a compelling DNA study with mountain lions, which included 476 hair samples collected from scent-scratching posts located in Quebec and New Brunswick. Nineteen of the hair samples came from mountain lions.
Biblical Allusion Has Become Negative
The term “Nimrod” has become a negative term for someone whom the speaker thinks is inadequate at best, often used by liberals, but that is not a slam at left wingers – just a comment meant as enrichment to the discussion.
This word used in a negative connotation actually attacks two huge groups of folks – Christians and hunters. Nimrod was a great hunter in the Bible. So, when you hear a person call someone a “nimrod” in a negative manner, make sure to point out that there is little need for denouncing hunters or biblical characters
Bird of the Month
These days, tufted titmice are as common as black-capped chickadees at my backyard feeders, a sign of the times as this species increases its hold on the state. Maine ranks the northern boundary for this titmouse.
During the 1950s, tufted titmice began arriving in central Maine in noticeably increasing numbers, perhaps following the growing bird-feeding craze north. Many baby boomers remember parents pointing the bird out and saying, “That songbird is new to Maine,” often a story in newspapers at the time. Now, they’re common, an endearing addition to this state’s feeders.
This crested, gray bird looks drab in bird guidebook photos with what Peterson calls “mouse-colored” on the top of its head, back, wing tops and tail, but it has orange flanks, black forehead and pale gray to white around its eyes – a fine contrast in color coordination.
Its pointed beak is black and feet and legs dark gray, but one last feature really captures our eyes – the bird’s eyes, large in comparison to the head. A forgotten nature writer from the 1970s once said titmouse had “… soft, Italian brown eyes,” a comment that can stick in the mind. Sibley apparently disagreed and painted titmice eyes coal black.
The song sounds merry enough, particularly on a cold winter day, a clear, whistled, two-syllable peter, peter, peter, peter or here, here, here, here. Its call, according to Sibley, sounds like ti ti ti sii sii zhree, zhree, zhree.
This species measures 6 1/2-inches in length, wings span 9 3/4-inches and weight hits 3/4-ounces, a small bird that looks larger because of its crest. The crest really catches our eyes.
The species likes low, moist lands or shade trees in village or park settings. Titmice visits winter birdfeeders, an endearing quality for Mainers.
This titmice lays eggs in a tree cavity or a bird-breeding box stuffed with leaves for softness and warmth. This species produces five to six white eggs with brown dots. (Ken Allen)
Did you Know?
Winter Deer Lose How Much Weight!
How much weight does a white-tailed deer lose in winter?
Hidden World Revealed, and Nuts and Berries of New
Our Own Seymour
A Hidden Talent for Sure
Tom Seymour writes several columns and lots of special sections in The Maine Sportsman, and he’s also a prolific book author and blogger.
Years ago, I wrote a review here for one of his books, Hidden World Revealed (copyright 2008; Just Write Books publisher). I also did the introduction to this book, which said a lot about my opinion of Seymour’s talents, by comparing the book to E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat (copyright 1942) and Aldo Leupold’s A Sand County Almanac (copyright 1949).
Why would I hold Hidden World Revealed up to these two great classics?
Well, many of E. B. White’s brilliant observations in his ultra-popular book released three-quarters of a century ago quickly became clichés – many of them tired by 2014.
I studied this book in a college writing class, and even then, it bored me at times with anti-combustion-engine rhetoric and other equally yawning topics.
Seymour has been a full-time writer for 40 years, so he compares favorably to Leopold, who was a scientist more than a writer, so Hidden World Revealed has clout for this reviewer. Also, A Sand County Almanac was so widely read that many of his clever observations may be equally as true now – but overdone from myriad writers since 1949.
Hidden World Revealed unfolded at first as a blog that I liked so well that I talked Seymour into putting the blog collection into a book. Unfortunately, Just Write Books is a small publisher, so Seymour’s work never hit the big time in markets that New York publishers normally flood. There’s still time for this book to get its proper readership.
In 2013, Tom Seymour’s Nuts and Berries of New England (Falcon Guides; copyright 2013) hit book stores, and this glossy book with a jillion colored photos and a few drawings really is classy looking.
This book begins with the basics of gathering, cooking and preserving nuts and berries. Seymour divided the book into three parts – 1. “Gathering, Cooking and Preserving,” 2. “Nuts and Nutlets” and “Berries.”
The second part covers such delectable foods as black walnut, beechnut, hazelnut and acorn, and the third part talks about blackberries, cranberries, high-bush blueberries, wild strawberries, ground juniper and rose hips. There’s also a recipe index.
This book has enough information to please wild-food gatherers, and as a strict how-to books, it has clear, concise directions.
Next month, I’ll do another Seymour title – Wild Plants of Maine with a subtitle A Useful Guide (copyright 2013). (Ken Allen)
Been Here, Done It for 40 Years!
I feel like the Mountain Dew commercial that promoted the idea – “Been there, done it.” Except for me, “I’ve been here, done it.”
Exactly 40 years ago, my first article appeared in The Maine Sportsman’s March 1973 issue – how to tie a Red Quill dry fly. The magazine cost 35 cents then, Wendall Tremblay was the publisher, and I didn’t meet the editor for at least two months. For nearly two years after that, I wrote how-to articles and short stories.
In my very first conversation with Tremblay, he helped me a great deal with the business and marketing basics of free-lance writing, and since then, I have sold well over 4,000 articles and a few short stories to nearly 90 magazines and newspapers – albeit over 40 of those magazine titles were in the Game and Fish publication chain, using a single article each month in all of its 40-plus magazine titles. I’ve often wondered if Tremblay ever realized what a huge help he was to a young writer recently out of college.
My first column here appeared in January 1974 – “The Fly Box.” It appeared with seven other columnists that month, and the era of columns began in this publication.
In those years, rural Mainers had not yet embraced fly rodding as they indeed would in a few short years, so low readership of the “The Fly Box” influenced me to suggest a title change – “Sportsman’s Sketchbook” and include hunting, fly fishing, saltwater fishing, canoeing, camping, wild-food gathering and more, a good move. A year or so later, readership had immediately jumped into the 77-percent range.
The title “Sportsman’s Sketchbook” was a tribute to Ivan Turgenev’s classic outdoor book, A Sportsman’s Sketchbook, published in 1852, perhaps one of the world’s more renown hunting-and-fishing, literary books ever.
Readers missed the Turgenev allusion, though, and kept asking about the sketches – mainly where were the sketched drawings? Turgenev did his “sketches” in words, though, as I was doing in The Maine Sportsman 122 years later.
Because of that complaint, though, the editor soon changed the column head to “Upcountry Journal,” and that column has lasted for 38 years. After doing a cooking column and then a gun column, I brought back “The Fly Box” again in the 1990s as a second column to “Upcountry,” and it worked well with readers.
That fly-fishing column has lasted 20-plus years – first with “The Fly Box” as a name and now as “Common-sense Fly Fishing” to indicate the column was about hatch matching, presentation, fly casting and the whole works.
I’ve also written a bunch of “Special Sections” here, and it surprises folks when I tell them that for the past 26 years, I did many of these articles as fill-ins, on occasions when other writers failed to meet a deadline. (Ken Allen)
April and Spring Have Sprung
Spring has sprung all right, and this event occurs earlier in most years. If you disbelieve that, please consider this digression.
In the very early 1970s, The Maine Sportsman published the neatest little booklet, Maine Outdoorsman’s Guide. (Back then, everyone called it Maine Guide.) For folks who do not believe “climate change” and “global warming” are real, listen to this passage from a Maine Guide published 42 years ago.
The 1972 booklet talked about ice-out in waters across Maine. Here are a few examples of when ice went out:
• “April, fourth week: Belgrade Lakes, East and West Grand lakes….”
• “May, first week: Sebec Lake, Embden Lake….”
• “May, second week: Rangeley lakes, Moosehead Lake….
These days, the Belgrade Lakes always go out well before the fourth week of April. I’ve even seen the Belgrade Lakes go out the first week of April in more recent years.
Despite early ice out and spring, though, April 1 still begins with snow and ice, making early, open-water anglers look in dismay and ask, “What are we goin’ to do about all this white stuff and ice-covered ponds and lakes?”
Folks still flock to name places like The Spillway Pool, Castle Island bridges and Wings Mills in the Belgrade Lakes, Grand Lake Stream Down East, Kennebec River stretch below Wyman Dam and other name spots, where ice leaves early. Crowds sometimes form that are big enough to warrant a wagon selling coffee, doughnut and hot dog. Sometimes, anglers spend more time chatting than casting. And that’s all fun.
As ponds and lakes shed ice, trollers get out like crazy, and often, they catch the biggest fish of the year. That last statement comes after looking at stats in The One That Didn’t Get Away Club, sponsored by The Maine Sportsman.
Open-water fishing rules now, and each day that creeps toward May offers more possibilities as ice leaves lakes and ponds, and hopefully, currents in river, streams and brooks subside.
Despite spring smells and sounds in the bottom third of Maine, though, folks still snowmobile up north. Skiers also cash in on late snow, as do snowshoers.
We cannot forget one avid crowd this month – turkey hunters scouting hard for places to shoot a turkey when the spring season opens in late April. The trick is to find a backwoods field or hardwood ridge filthy with turkeys that folks cannot spot from the road.
Landscape photographers have fun now, doing mood shots of drab fields and woodlands. Long shadows now create 3-dimensional images that highlight stonewalls, brown pine needles on the ground, cedar shingles, and bark on tree trunks.
Wildlife photographers can find critters now, but mammals often lose winter hair or birds molt, so these photo subjects look ragged. However, photos may lack aesthetic appeal, but images capture a behavioral phase.
Exercising sports such as running, hiking and bicycling really pick up in April, and when drivers see these crowds, they may feel guilty that they’re not burning calories and getting the heart pumping.
Hunters may practice-shoot a lot this month – archers with their bow and arrows, smoothbore enthusiasts after clay targets and riflemen perfecting trigger squeeze and working up new loads.
Answer to “Do You Know?”
That Much, Huh?!
Even though Maine deer often spend the winter in the confines of a deer yard without moving far, food remains scarce and cold forces them to burn lots of calories. Because of that, whitetails lose 20 percent to 25 percent of their body weight.