Archive for June, 2011

Wilson’s Snipe

Wilson's Snipe

Early in June, while fishing on the Passadumkeag River, at dusk I started hearing a strange sound….like a woop woop woop, low in tone, but persistent, and there was obviously more than one individual making the noise.   I described it as sounding like something you would hear on the Serengeti, or the jungle, it was almost monkey like and other worldly. I recalled that I perhaps had heard it once before, but it was a long time ago.   I debated recording it with the digital camera, but didn’t, which I deeply regretted later.  I asked a few people about what it was I had heard, including my avid bird watching parents, and couldn’t come up with an answer.  So, I started searching the web, and you can imagine the results I got when I searched for woop woop woop marsh call.  I considered maybe it was some sort of tree frog, so I searched all the frogs in Maine and listened to their calls and came up with nothing that sounded similar.  It could almost be a tree frog, but it would have to be a sub-species or some exotic that wasn’t on the list, maybe a “whooping frog”.  So I crossed that off the list and moved on to owls, thinking it was dusk and perhaps could be an owl.  I went through all the owls species in Maine and listened to their call and again nothing matched.  Hmmm…what the heck did I hear out there – some exotic rare new species?  I thought about it for a while and gave up for a while.  Then I thought, what about bats?  Turns out the brown bat actually makes a noise, but alas, wasn’t the one I heard.  My parents suggested some shore birds, but most shore birds make a  croak/auk/shrill kreek sound and I knew that wasn’t it.   I didn’t think it could be an insect, as the sound would be too complicated.  I pondered for a bit that maybe it was a type of wing sound, similar to a Partridge drumming it’s wings;

Turns out I was on the right track with that thought – a search for strange whooping marsh sounds finally  turned up the culprit, which is not something I would have thought of – a Wilson’s Snipe.  Here is a link to the exact sound I heard on the marsh that day(click on the listen arrow) -Wilsons Snipe.

What’s amazing to me is they do that with their feathers, similar to the Woodcock  “dance” which I have seen lots of times, the woodcock is also a snipe.

In fact, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two in the field without some practice…the Wilsons Snipe is pictured at the top of the post, and this is a Woodcock;

Woodcock

Turns out the Wilson’s Snipe is  a pretty common bird in Maine – and unlike the Woodcock, I can’t find video of it’s mating ritual anywhere.  Now that I know where they are, next year maybe I can get it on film, and see if I can find what one of their hidden nests look like, and maybe get a picture of the elusive bird – you can find out more about them here.  I’m glad I didn’t give up, and that I now know what mysterious noise I was hearing on the river that night.

 

 

 

 

Game Cams

Greenbush Fox

Game Cameras (Cams) come in many different choices these days, and have a big range in cost.  Many excel in one area but under-perform in another.  I’ve had a lot of fun with mine, and you never really know what you’ve captured on film while you were away.  It’s exciting to run up to the camera to see how many pictures it’s taken and of what.  There are a few things you have to think about when you’re shopping around for a camera – first being this day and age digital is the only way to go.  I’ve used the old 35mm film cameras when digital was still expensive, and between the incandescent flash and the film advance you’re spooking critters left and right, some of whom won’t return.  Some digital cameras have an incandescent flash so you can get color pictures at night, but I prefer the infrared (IR) flash because the creature you are taking a picture of never even knows it.  It does give a more “ghosty” appearance to your images, but it looks fine, if not better, to me.  Generally the faster the trigger time the higher quality (and price) of the camera.  However, if you’re on a feeder or bait as I am, trigger time doesn’t matter all that much because the animal is hanging around having their picture taken.  If you are interested in a game trail or security though, you’ll need a fast trigger time.  The detection zone of a camera is comprised of the width and the range.  Cameras vary in ranges from 30 feet to 100 feet, and widths of 5 to 90 degrees.  Each camera will have their own specs, and if possible it’s best to see pictures that it’s taken at various lighting and distance to see if it will work for what you want it to, and most camera manufacturers will have pictures available to view.  The other factor is recovery time – the time it takes to take and store a picture to be ready to take another.  Some take only half a second, which would be good on a game trail, and some take 60 seconds or longer, which is ok if you’re on a feed station.  Obviously the faster the time the more expensive the camera.

I like to set mine up over bait – typically I’ll put out something interesting (usually table scraps and leftovers) and I’ll spread it around a small area.  This keeps whatever is interested hunting around for each tasty morsel, and therefore more likely to have a good picture taken.  I then set up the camera within close range of the bait. You can test whether the camera will work in it’s location by turning it on and walking around the area with the bait – the camera will flash a red light when it is picking up a signal from your movement, and a small green light when the picture is actually taken. The images in this post are taken with a Wildgame camera -

For the price it’s been a great camera, and I’ve got some memorable shots with it.  When combined with some enhancing software which you can do online for free at Picnik, you can get some pretty good pictures out of it.  For these images, we had cooked two racks of baby back ribs over the fire, and as we were eating I was tossing the bones out into a small area of the woods in front of camp, and when we left in the morning I set up the camera overlooking them at ground level.  That night this red fox appeared and stayed for almost 48 hours finding what I had thrown out there. In the second to last picture you can see him with one of them in his mouth.  So, if you have a place where you’d like to know what’s visiting or what’s nearby that you can lure in, think about getting a trail cam – they’re a lot of fun.

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Greenbush Fox

Some amazing bobcat footage.

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Sustainable Water

When I was building camp I went through several scenarios in my head as to how to solve the issue of getting water.  My favorite idea at that time was harvesting rainwater from the roof, and directing it into a 50 gallon container, which would be hoisted into a nearby tree, and allow for gravity flow into the camp.  I had a few issues though that concerned me with this method the first being someone decided they needed the gutters worse than I did and relieved me of them.  I was also concerned about insect and growth contamination during storage, and I didn’t come up with a solution that made me comfortable, and I didn’t think it was worth the effort to boil or otherwise decontaminate the water for drinking purposes, so for the past few years I’ve been lugging water in.

I came across the idea of a drive point well a few years ago.  Well points are widely available on the web and are reasonably priced  – Lehman’s is  a good place to search as is Northern Tool.

It is as basic as it sounds – A well point is a pipe with a point and screen at the bottom and is driven into the ground adding sections of pipe until you reach water.  You can then add a solar or hand pump to get water out of your well.  I’ve read that they can been driven up to 60 feet, but I don’t think I would want to attempt that depth – most literature says that 20 feet or less is optimal.  Obviously that is not a suitable water table depth for some areas, but I think it is a workable idea for where my property is for several reasons.  First is I am slightly downhill of a giant Esker.  Looking at water table maps of the area the esker is a huge water source.  Also, the neighboring property to me has a spring coming out the side of a small hill.  There is a neighbor down the road a piece that dug a tiled well, and his is 6 feet deep and consistently has water.  I also have a cedar, swampy, standing water area downhill from my camp, all of which leads me to believe that water is not far away.  So, a few years ago I bought a drive point and gave it a shot.  Within short order (about 4 feet) I hit a layer of clay.  I tried to pound the point through it and failed, breaking the threads of the driving cap.  I gave up at that point, and it’s been sitting there for a few years now.   The clay layer makes me happy though – my guess is the water table is going to be just under that clay, and because of the clay layer, I can be reasonably sure that the water below is not going to have contamination from the surface.  I will obviously have it tested though, to be positive.
This summer though, I’m going to give it another shot, with a couple of changes.  I’m going to take an auger, or drive bar to get down to, and through the layer of clay before attempting to drive the point, similar to this diagram;

I hope doing it this way, I will be successful.  Then, I’ll have to think about how to pump it, prevent things from freezing during the winter, and figure out a water heater solution…that will be exciting.

I also wanted to take the time to link to The Ark Haus – I like their idea of using modified shipping containers to live off the grid, and it seems they have some other good ideas as well, some of which I may incorporate moving forward.

Harvesting ice on Jordan Pond in Acadia

 

Standing on the boat launch at Jordan Pond and looking up the left shore there is a cove indented into the shoreline, still called Ice Cove to this day by the locals. Jordan Pond is located in Seal Harbor, and nestled within Acadia National Park. Jordan Pond has some interesting geology, largely formed during the Wisconsin Ice sheet about 14,000 years ago. Standing at The Jordan Pond House and looking out over the pond you can see the scouring effects the glacier had on the rounded profile of The Bubbles, and on South Bubble is the famous glacial erratic rock (Bubble Rock) that was left behind.

The Jordan Pond House is on a glacial moraine, comprised of till that was deposited by the melting glacier, and essentially creating a dam for the lake. In the years before refrigeration, ice was harvested from local ponds stored in ice houses, and delivered to townsfolk who used them in what was known as an ice box. An ice box was as simple as it sounds, a well insulated box where you stored your perishable food, along with a block of ice. You can see pictures and see more about ice boxes here. My Grandfather never stopped calling it an ice box, even after they had a modern refrigerator. In Seal Harbor, ice was harvested from ice cove, up until about the mid 1940’s. When you think about it, that really wasn’t that long ago. My parents remember the ice harvest on Jordan Pond, and you can see a video of it here.

While it may require a little bit of effort, living off the grid you can utilize the same simple technology that our forebears used to keep food cold. There are some very simple directions on how to build a basic ice house here. Properly insulated with straw and sawdust, ice can last the summer and even in to the following winter. If you’re willing to put in the effort, it can save you a lot on the utility bills and the cost of a refrigeration unit. Details on how to harvest ice can be seen in the video below.  They are using mechanized equipment, for personal use I suspect with some diligent searching and old hand ice saw could probably be procured, especially here in Maine, and of course with a rip chain a chainsaw would do the work just fine.

Remnants of the ice house on Jordan PondRemnants of the ice house on Jordan PondRemnants of the ice house on Jordan Pond

Keeping Chickens

 

Keeping chickens for eggs and meat is not only fun, it’s easy and cheap too.  And, if you manage things right you only have to buy them once.  The first thing you need is housing for your chickens.  Chickens will thrive in almost any coop, and there are a myriad of options and plans available out there.  I used a fast framer kit which allows someone without a lot of carpentry skills to build a building without having to worry about cutting angles properly.

There are also lots of ideas on square footage per chicken – the coop I built was about 56 square feet, and typically chickens need about 3-5 square feet per bird to be comfortable, so technically my coop should hold about 10-18 birds comfortably, although over the winter I kept about 6 for my needs, and 25 for the summer months.    Murray McMurray hatchery is what I used to buy my chickens and equipment to feed and water them.  You have to order 25 birds at at time  and they come through the mail.  Murray McMurray also usually sends you a free gift exotic bird as well.  There are special feeders for the baby chicks so they don’t stand or poop in the food bin, and they need to have a heat lamp without a draft over them.  The lamp has to be placed so that they can move under it to get warm, and be able to move away from it if they get hot.  After about 4 weeks, they’re ready to move into the coop.  Baby chicks get medicated chick starter for food in the beginning. I keep mine on it for a couple of weeks, and then switch over to chick starter until they are old enough for laying pellets.
Here is a pretty good video on setting up a brooder, I like the plastic tote idea.

Murray McMurray’s website has lots of useful free information for the beginner, and there is lots of good information here.    There are several breeds of chickens that work well for both meat and eggs, my favorite is Rhode Island Reds. If you order 25 straight run (straight run is unsexed, cheaper, and about 50% male and female) and keep one of the roosters, in the spring you can hatch your eggs using a incubator or a broody hen, and raise them for the summer for the freezer in the fall, recycling your laying hens from the previous year.  Here is how my coop looked;

Henhouse

There is a window on the side and the back, where it gets the most sun each day.  In books you may find that people “light” chickens to keep them at 14 hours of light per day after natural light drops below that point, but I never have, and although egg production slows during the winter months it never stops.   The door for the chickens is on the left side of the coop – just a small door for them to come out each morning.  Your chicken door needs a good latch though – raccoons are excellent at figuring out how to open things.  On the front door there is a piece of wood that can be lifted off and underneath it is hardware cloth for ventilation during the summer months.  As long as your coop is well built, and does not have any drafts it does not need to be insulated.  Here in Maine the winters get pretty cold, and my chickens survive just fine.   If you feel that you really want insulation, it needs to be inside a wall, chickens will pick it all apart.  My chickens were free range, that is to say I did not have them fenced in and they were free to forage for the day, returning to the coop at dark, where I would latch them in for the night.  You need roosts in your coop – I used 2×4’s across the top.   Chickens eat absolutely everything and enjoy table scraps too.  I use layer pellets from the local feed store, along with scratch corn and leftovers from the table as well.  Your local feed store will have shells (such as oyster or clam) too – chickens need them to keep their eggs hard.  Chickens also need grit to help digest their food – if they are free range you don’t really have to worry about it, but if you have them penned you may want to throw some grit in once in a while.  Chickens are perfect if you are a gardener too as their feces are fantastic fertilizer and full of nitrogen.  It may be hard to see in the picture, but to the left of the coop is a run that I built that is about 8 feet long, and fenced in.  You can put a few chickens in there and place them between the rows of your crops, and not only will they weed your garden for you, but they will fertilize it as well.  Putting poop directly on plants will burn them, but between the rows it works great.  The perfect recycler.  For the floor of the coop I use wood shavings, making sure in the morning to shovel out the nights poop from under the roosts  – doing it that way lets the wood shaving last for a while before you have to clear them out and replace them with fresh.  There are lots of descriptions about particular sizes and shapes for nest boxes, I used a couple of old horse tack boxes – they were not very big, enough for a chicken to get into and turn around, and enough for them to feel hidden.  A good trick to get them using the nest box is to put a wooden egg in them, you can get one at any craft store.   It’s fun to watch chickens in the yard, and listen  to their various calls.  Some days they seem really intelligent, and some days the opposite.  They are hardy and easy critters to keep.

The act of killing a chicken to eat can be a difficult one for anybody, and some people can’t do it.  It is a fact of life, that something dies so that you can live.  Celebrate the fact that you are providing for yourself, that you chicken had a much better life than a commercial chicken did, and that there are no chemicals or hormones in the meat you are going to eat.  Here are a couple of videos on how to do it correctly.  For me personally, I didn’t bother scalding and plucking, rather I just took the skin off and quartered.  There is also some good information in slaughtering day for the meat chickens.

When I first decided to keep chickens, the book below was very helpful to me.  Give it a try – it’s fun and easy, and there’s nothing like watching a rooster strutting his stuff.

 

The Maine Cougar Conundrum

A few years ago, while walking out of a woods road near dusk I looked up to the crest of the hill on the road and saw something glide out of the woods, stop and turn to look at me.   I was very surprised at it’s size, and uttered a small oath under my breath as I struggled to identify what it was that I was looking at.   As I got closer and got a better look I realized it was a huge bobcat.   A few days after that I saw the local game warden and mentioned to him that if he had any cougar sightings  from that town it was just a big  bobcat.

The Eastern Cougar was declared officially extinct in Maine on March 2 of 2011, to the chagrin of lots of people in this state that believe that it exists here.   I was lucky enough to see and hear a cougar  while on a two week hiking trip in New Mexico with the Boy Scouts.  I believe that Maine has the habitat that can support cougars, I have a very open mind about the possibility of their presence here, and I would love to be the person that gets irrefutable proof that they are here, but I don’t think they are, and here is why.

First is most people, including those that spend a fair amount of time in the woods of this state ever see a wild cat, and if they are lucky enough to it is only for a very brief moment.  Seeing a glimpse of a creature like that often leads one to believe that it is bigger than it truly is.   And bobcats in Maine get a lot bigger than people imagine they do.  Pictures are worth a thousand words so take a look at the picture below;

Maine Bobcat

What is it?  Being honest with yourself, what would you say if you got a glimpse of this running away from you in the woods?  What would you estimate that it weighs?   Look at the tail – is it the distinctive bobcat tail, or is it a long tail curled between the rear legs?

Walking through the woods this creature would look huge – believe me.  To answer the questions above, it is a bobcat – a 50 pound one.   A lot of people think bobcats are covered with spots – here in Maine, and especially if the cat is older, such is not the case, as you can see from the picture.

Now, compare that picture to this picture;

Can you tell the difference?  If you saw either one of those for the second that you do see them in the woods, would you be able to identify it?

Second – all the purported mountain lion  pictures I’ve seen are magically missing the distinctive long tail.  In one of the general stores in the Katahdin region someone even went to the trouble of scratching out the tail on the photo.  There is one photo I have seen that has given  me pause, and that can be found here looking at the game camera photo(s).

Looking at the enlarged photo, it does appear to have a long tail, but you can’t actually see it. I’ve also seen ears that appear as in the photo on bobcats.   The first give away that it is a bobcat is it has belly spots.  The second is when you look at the original photo and compare it to the surrounding scenery, it just isn’t anywhere near big enough or tall enough to be a cougar.

Finally,  when the lynx population started dropping down into Northern Maine a few years ago we knew it because we had bodies.  A car ran one over, and a trapper caught one.  If you recall the lone wolf that wandered into the state 10 years ago or so was promptly shot.  I believe if we had  mountain lions in the state at some point we would see a dead one – either by car, rifle, or trap, and despite all the “sightings” we haven’t seen that.  Also,  it is still legal here in Maine to use hounds for bobcats during the winter, and I do believe that at some point if the big cats were here, someone would have had one treed by now.

That’s my two cents on the Maine Cougar issue…

If you have genuine untouched photos I’d love to see them.

There is an interesting update here

A very impressive dispersal to say the least!

And a good video;


Some truly fantastic bobcat footage;

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