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The Blundering Biologist

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The Blundering Biologist
All~


When the frost leaves the ground and the mud dries out, there are always certain seasonal chores to do around the farm. I have several acres here and there that I mow (bush hog) once each year because I had left them "rough" as food and cover for wintering birds. Most are near the house but others are further afield. I bush hog them now so that I am less likely to disturb nesting birds than later in the Spring. Nevertheless, there is always a risk.


Another project was clearing out some brush - mostly Staghorn Sumac and Tartarian Honeysuckle in a little corner where we had planted a "memory tree" - a White Pine - for Susan's sister 10 or more years ago. I wanted to showcase the tree and be able to enjoy the little rise and outcropping that is one of the approaches to the Farm on the road. So, I spent a couple of mornings with the tractor and a chain to pull out scores of saplings and shrubs. I probably cleared an eighth-acre - and so I bought some Dutch White Clover seeds this morning to spread on the bare soil.


This (mostly to the left - west - outside of the photo) had been an impenetrable tangle of live and dead Sumac, Honeysuckle and Multiflora Rose. Excellent cover for any ground nester....







This afternoon, I ran up there with the tractor to drag out the last pile of saplings. I had already chained up the pile when I spied another 3-inch Maple sapling I had missed. As I stepped over to grab it, a fluttering erupted right between my feet.






A hen Woodcock flew just a foot or two then walked slowly uphill from her nest. I had been walking and driving my tractor through this very location numerous times of late, especially yesterday. I am so glad I did not destroy the nest - but I have certainly reduced its chances of success.


Woodcock have been peenting right behind the house for the past 2 weeks - struggling to be heard over the Peepers and Wood Frogs over the last several days. Over the years, I have found a couple of Woodcock broods but this was my first nest with eggs.


BTW: All the saplings and brush I removed have been piled strategically - to serve as nesting and foraging cover for future wildlife.....



Other Spring events: I saw my first Meadowlarks today - and a female Northern Harrier. There were still Redpolls on the feeder yesterday, but we had Fox Sparrows and a Pine Warbler last week. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows are building nests in our boxes. Sunday morning I saw Bluewings and Ringnecks on a local beaver pond. While I was working yesterday, I watched a hen Wood Duck exit a tall, dying Sugar Maple.



'Tis a fine time of year!


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Our awakening started about a month ago. Always renews the spirit after the dregs of winter. Days now bumping 70 fairly regularly so time to get everything possible done before we settle into an Eastern Shore humid summer. It sure does the spirit well right now to be working outside and watching spring bloom.

Last edited by:

roy brewington: Apr 11, 2019, 7:19 AM
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
We received 5? of new snow here in MinnesnowtaWink
I keep thinking spring but Mother Nature must not be able to read minds.
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
That's pretty cool Steve. Good luck to momma and the babies.

We actually do get some nesting woodcock down here in FL and I have a strip of woods that I would like to figure out how to make it desirable for woodcock to visit and nest in. A neighbor down the road had a woodcock in the spring that I flushed. I didn't see babies but I couldn't get close enough to where I saw the woodcock. So maybe it was nesting, maybe just passing through. But they are in my general area from time to time.
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 Steve, do you have a cam? Pics?
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 
Give a man a gas powered machine/device, and in the name of "improvement" can screw up as much as possible.

We cannot improve upon nature, no matter how wise and educated we may be.

The uglier the tangle the better it is. If ya try to go in, and come out bleeding, it's just right.

Predators have more than enough Parks to glean from.


We are each in our own way Blunder's. I have done my share.

I tip my hat to your saying so. That takes guts.

I hope your hen Woodcock and brood survive.


Best regards
Vince











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 
A very good friend of mine has prime Woodcock habitat on his old farm. Very scarce these days.

Took many years, but now almost all of the farm is in the Conservation Easement Program.


He owns it, but he cannot touch it EVER. Nor can any other owner. Thank GOD.

It is some of the most Gawd Awful Ugly Cover I have ever hunted for pheasants in the East.


The Woodcock love it, and that is all that is important. It is their good place, and are never hunted.

Tis a grand thing to look upon, but not improve.

Once and awhile we do things for the better.Smile


Best regards
Vince











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Rich~


No trail cam there. My plan now is to give the nest a wide berth. Probably best thing would be if she abandoned now (yesterday) and laid a new clutch in cover that's safe from me and my tractor.


All the best,


SJS

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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Vince~


I thoroughly enjoy messing around with the landscape - sort of like messing about in boats! I view the Farm as a canvas.







Instead of brushes and paints, I use: ag leases, plantings (grasses and herbs on up to trees), lawn tractor, bush hog, chainsaw - and we even diked 2 wet spots to create shallow wetlands. No question, though, that letting Nature take her course is another powerful tool. Any big "improvements" we have made have simply gotten better and better as the sites age.


We bought this land with wildlife (and older architecture) in mind. As far as we can tell, the fields are the same as on the 1865 ag census maps - an old-style farm with small fields and hedgerows everywhere; there are 22 "management units" on 67 acres. Susan and I take some time to recognize our good fortune each day.


All the best,


SJS

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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Good morning Zane and Vinc e - and Rich~


Looks like I've somehow stolen Zane's identity on my last 2 posts.....


Guess I'm an inadvertent internet hacker now - yet another blunder????


All the best,


SJS



Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
I noticed that, I thought you had an alter ego (not the first time someone has done that here, but it usually is on purpose).
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Vince Pagliaroli wrote:
A very good friend of mine has prime Woodcock habitat on his old farm. Very scarce these days.

Took many years, but now almost all of the farm is in the Conservation Easement Program.


He owns it, but he cannot touch it EVER. Nor can any other owner. Thank GOD.

It is some of the most Gawd Awful Ugly Cover I have ever hunted for pheasants in the East.


The Woodcock love it, and that is all that is important. It is their good place, and are never hunted.

Tis a grand thing to look upon, but not improve.

Once and awhile we do things for the better.Smile


Best regards
Vince



If it's woodcock habitat, won't it need management to keep it in early successional forest? Maine still has a lot of good woodcock habitat, in part because we still have lots of active timber management. This is good for some species (woodcock, moose, lynx), at the price of habitat for species that would do better with larger, older wood (deer, marten, brook tout). A major element of management on conservation lands here where woodcock and ruffed grouse habitat if an objective is pretty regular cutting.

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to

Quote
Looks like I've somehow stolen Zane's identity on my last 2 posts.....


Funny, I was wondering why I had such an urge this morning to repaint decoys and work on my sneakbox.....now I knowSmile
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 
We are in the TWILIGHT ZONE...Shocked











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 

After the land was surveyed and well marked, major work was done with Federal approval. All further work in perpetuity will also be done by them, not by the land owner.











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
I think there are some similar arrangements for woodcock habitat management on lands around the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine.

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Jeff Reardon wrote:
Vince Pagliaroli wrote:

A very good friend of mine has prime Woodcock habitat on his old farm. Very scarce these days.

Took many years, but now almost all of the farm is in the Conservation Easement Program.


He owns it, but he cannot touch it EVER. Nor can any other owner. Thank GOD.

It is some of the most Gawd Awful Ugly Cover I have ever hunted for pheasants in the East.


The Woodcock love it, and that is all that is important. It is their good place, and are never hunted.

Tis a grand thing to look upon, but not improve.

Once and awhile we do things for the better.Smile


Best regards
Vince




If it's woodcock habitat, won't it need management to keep it in early successional forest? Maine still has a lot of good woodcock habitat, in part because we still have lots of active timber management. This is good for some species (woodcock, moose, lynx), at the price of habitat for species that would do better with larger, older wood (deer, marten, brook tout). A major element of management on conservation lands here where woodcock and ruffed grouse habitat if an objective is pretty regular cutting.


Deer are not an old growth forest species...a couple of thousand studies exist indicating that their populations do best in the same habitats that ruffed grouse prosper in at northern latitudes; new growth high stem count habitat with a fair amount of lateral obstacles like blowdowns.
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
RL, I didn't mention old growth, but I should have made clear that I was talking about the situation here in Maine, and more specifically, in northern Maine.

There, the primary limiting factor for deer is winter habitat, which is defined here by our Maine DIFW as closed canopy softwood stands where snow pack depth is limited and allows deer movement to forage and escape predators in winter. It's more complicated--these stands need to be large enough, and have travel corridors to areas that support winter forage--but the emphasis is really on maintaining closed canopy stands of spruce/fir; cedar; or hemlock. In commercial forest land, such stands are limited because those trees tend to be desirable for harvest--less than 5% of the landscape across virtually all of northern of Maine. Historically it was more like 10-15% and deer densities were much higher--though still low here by midwest standards. Most deer management in the north country relates to strategies to protect the small amount of such habitat that is left, or to regrow it, which is a long-term project.

More details here: https://www.maine.gov/...uidelines_2.4.10.pdf


My guess is that with the large expanses of National and State forests, the northern tier mid-western states have less of an issue with this than we do here where virtually all of the forest in northern Maine is private timberland. I remember being shocked by how much public land there was in Michigan and Wisconsin during my short mid-western residence. My friends who deer hunt the Adirondacks, an area with similar climate, landscape, and forest types to Maine, tell me deer densities there are higher than here in Maine.

I was at the last presentation that Maine's former senior deer biologist gave before he changed jobs to become our moose biologist. He was asked why he was changing jobs, and his response was that given Maine's land use patterns and the changes in forest management, Maine had become a really easy place to grow moose and a really hard to place to grow deer.

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Steve -

I do believe that I'm addressing you, or is it Zane.Wink


If your farm is as tidy, and ship shape as your shop, it must indeed be a slice of paradise.

I really like the concept of your Farm being a living canvas.

You may be a Biologist in mind, but a artist at heart. You cannot stop yourself, it effects all aspects of your life.



Best regards
Vince
















"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Steve et al-
Do any of you do much prescribed burning north of the Mason-Dixon? I burn what I can weather permitting but shut it down at the beginning of April. No doubt any nests I consumed could be replaced, but laying a clutch of eggs is no small investment, and I'd prefer not to be the cause of a nest failure.

I ran a baby rabbit out of my "overgrown" vegetable garden while mowing the yard yesterday. I sow it down to wheat and clover every fall and it's 12" tall and lush right now. I'll mow it down here in a couple more weeks but by then my tenants should be big enough to move off and fend for themselves. I have an arrangement with the critters-the garden is theirs to eat and hide in as they please all winter if they'll leave it be through the summer.
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Good morning, Michael~


There is some prescribed burning here in the northeast - but much less, I believe, than down your way. Here it is done primarily for ecological purposes and in just a few fire-adapted communities such as Pine Barrens/Pine Plains. Re-setting succession and removal of invasive plants are common reasons.


Sounds like you and I time our habitat manipulations similarly. As I mentioned, most of my bush-hogging is done in early Spring - so wildlife could rely on the cover and seeds throughout the Winter. Maintaining successional stages and limiting invasives are big factors - in addition to aesthetics.


I let my farmers do what they need to do - but wish they could forestall their first hay cutting until much later - into the Summer. In addition to ground-nesting birds - including Turkeys - the mowers take a surprising number of fawns in some years.


All the best,


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Jeff, I am one of the folks who drove through the founding of the UP Winter Habitat Work Group, with financial support through Safari Club International, through their representative, former Region 1 Wildlife Supervisor, Jim Hammill. Jim and I were sitting next to each other at a UP Deer Management update presentation. At that time he was a member of the MDNR UP citizen's advisory committee to the UP Wildlife Management Team, My attendance at the meeting was drivin by my interest in applying for an open seat on this advisory committee. I have known Jim for years, so I asked him point-blank whether it was worthwhile to apply for the opening. He smiled and said that he was leaving the group, largely because they had no interest in habitat management or habitat acquisition, just an ongoing desire to argue antler point retrictions (APRs) within the buck harvest segment as a means of management. Our ensuing conversation essentially focused on the sequential loss of deer yards and declining habitat quality of deer yards, now known as Winter Deer Complexes (WDC)

The UP of Michigan's deer herd is relatively unique, in that segments (subpopulations migrate from thirty to over 100 miles to overwinter in Deer Winter Complexes, or deer yards largely composed of cedar. John Ozoga referred to them as the "green barns".

In the mid-1990s there were close to a million deer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At that time, the UP had adequate Winter Deer Complex habitat to carry around 750,000 deer through a normal UP winter. After, the winters of 1995-96 and 1996-97 the population declined by over 500,000 animals. One of the conclusions the MDNR Wildlife Division personnel arrived at, from this die-off was that you cannot stockpile deer on the landscape without adequate winter habitat, as well as summer doe/fawn rearing complexes that would minimize cumulative fawn predation mortalities incurred from coyote, wolves, bobcat, bear, and eagles. After several failed initiatives directed strictly at WDC habitat quality mapping and block purchases of WDC lands in private or private corporate ownership via Natural Resources Trust Fund monies, the legislature blocked further land acquisitions, courtesy of State representative from a logging clan that had an "axe to grind" with Forestry. He secured a position as chair of the appropriations committee that oversaw department funding and pushed through the legislation that required the department to develop a working plan for every State owned parcel larger than 80 acres, prior being allowed to purchase additional holdings. It had disastrous consequences on the UP deer population, since many of these DWCs were on private, private corporate forestry company , and Federal Forest (Ottawa and Hiawatha) lands and logged over the interval. Prior Mead's corporate departure from the UP an internal memo. was leaked to the press outlining cutting of a series of drumlin uplands within the Hermansville deer yard primarily to destroy and eliminate overstory of hemlock and deciduous tree species on these drumlins and re-seed with red pine. There was quite a firestorm of controversy generated, yet still no overwhelming Public support for WDC preservation or enhancement among the sport hunting community. The turning-point was reached when the MDNR considered closing the deer season due to overall population numbers; setting their estimate of UP deer numbers under 150,000 in 2015.

The Upper Peninula Winter Habitat Work Group was formed in 2015, but the initiative actually started in 2012.. I have been attending meetings as a private citizen under the open meetings act requirements, since its formation. What Jim Hammill outlined in our conversation was an SCI financed grant to hire a wildlife biologist to map all historic DWCs. JR Richardson was able to secure additional monies from a Wildlife Habitat Improvement grant to fund the other half of this person's salary. What we eventually put forward to Natural Resources Commission, chair, JR Richardson was a comprehensive plan to initially map all DWC complexes UP wide, follow this up with a "boots on the ground" assessment of each DWC to first verify current use by overwintering whitetail deer, develop a DWC by DWC specific forest overstory map that reflected current conditions, each DWC that was mapped would then have a five and ten year management plan drawn-up. Once this phase reached completion, outreach meetings were held, preceded by mass mailings to all parcel owners with 80 acres or more owned within the DWC, as well as within 2 miles of the specific DWC outside edge boundary to physically attend, or request additional follow-up and contact via Soil Conservation Service, MSU Cooperative extension service regional office community foresters, or either of the two MDNR Community Foresters to conduct on-property walk through and subsequent forest habitat management plan write-up. All private corporate forestry company forest managers, as well as Federal Forest holdings foresters were invited to attend and participate in the DWC management plan write-ups as well as provide input on how to engage in forest habitat manipulations compliant with their overall management goals and procedures on DWCs that exist within their holding.

Fifty-seven DWCs have been mapped and ground trothed to verify current use UP wide. Fifty-two plus have completed long and short term forest management plans drawn-up for them. Four separate community outreach meetings have occurred for private landowners to request parcel management plan write-up. Over 80% of these contacted individuals have followed-up to receive field visits by a forester to aid in direction of habitat management plan development.

A separate sub-committee was formed to prioritize, via a scoring system, DWCs for habitat redevelopment initiatives going forward:

https://www.michigan.gov/...scoring_546424_7.pdf

In a separate initiative, the MiDNR Wildlife Division has contracted researchers from Mississippi State University to engage in a three-tier assessment of fawn predation, stratified by snowfall depth range. I have no idea how much population biology background you have, Jeff, so I'll do this via the standard logistic curve population growth model. The closer you can hold overall deer numbers to a population density where the intrinsic rate of increase is maximal or near-maximal, the faster the population will expand. Or, bottom-line, natality rate is easier to maximize or markedly improve via habitat manipulation, overwhelming senescence and instantaneous death rates, independent of compensatory mortality factors. In high snowfall latitudes, you simply cannot stockpile deer, particularly now in this era of climate change where the extremes of climate can vary this markedly. What the MSSU folks have found is that our wolf population (roughly 750 animals) has displaced much of the coyote population from their normal habitat, pushing them back into high stem count young(er) tree stands, also used as fawning and fawn delivery cover by doe bands. Seasonal mortality spikes are associated with black bear foraging in vernal wetlands, stumbling upon fawns in the surrounding high stem density scrub around these sites, and eating them. Bobcat are the most efficient fawn predators, but their low numbers keep their overall impacts down. Wolves are not obligate fawn predators, but are capable of seasonal spikes depending on winter severity influenced fawn and doe condition, I.e. in hard winters low body weight fawns, as well as does are easier prey. Eagles, too, have been documented to kill fawns, both bald and goldens.

This general trend appears to hold true thus far through the first two phases of their sampling and analysis, independent of snowfall depth, while percentage predation rates by coyote, bobcat, and wolves increase with snow-depth.
So, keep the stem count high and preserve natural blow-downs as well a augmenting thee with hinge cutting to create a three dimensional barrier, minimizing fawn
predation.

The other thing that has had a marked beneficial impact is the banning of whole-tree harvest during winter months in logging operations on lands within 2 miles of these DWCs...on ALL lands.

One thing to also be cognizant of as you go forward, Jeff, the corporate forest folks will want a specific description of what "finished" looks like, in terms of whitetail denity, since they are focused on adverse impacts of over browsing on their holdings.

Besides, brain worm induced mortality increases in moose as cohabitating deer density increases...something we learned from the moose transplant effort.

Last edited by:

RLLigman: Apr 13, 2019, 1:35 PM
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
 
Fawn and other wildlife mortality in "Cow County", from early mowing is staggering, and depressing.

Yet the DEC puts the onus on hunters - "Let Them Grow"

How about "Let Them LIVE!"

Fingers are pointed at easy targets (the hunters) that have no big $$$$$$$$ and political power to back them.

Classic case of $$$$$$$ talks BS walks.

The days of the Blue Collar Hunter are over.











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
Steve

As always I love reading your post. This one is a little different then most. Your a true lover of nature. Good for you. Woodcock are a great bird and you don't see them like you once did. Back years ago. I'm happy you saved them. Great job. I took a walk today with my better half and my dog. And I was so happy, because I saw more ducks today then I did all season . Not really but a lot. Mallards ,teal ,wood ducks,black ducks, and geese. Spring is here and so are the birds. I got so much joy in seeing birds around. On my small pond a pair of geese have been coming in for years. Then the fights begin when other geese try to land on the pond. Its so cool. Like planes in WW2 they fight right in the air. I could watch them all day. Thanks for a great post.

anthony sr
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Re: The Blundering Biologist In reply to
When I was a kid a field near us burned. My father and a neighbor went to put the fire out and found a burnt over Pheasant nest.
My dad brought the eggs home and put them in an old hat with a light on them to keep them warm. 13 Pheasants hatched which we raised in our greenhouse. They did escape and we saw them for a few years after around the yard. Unbelievable colors on the males.

Ken Yacavone