Monday, August 3, 2020

Penobscot River Salmon Run Surges for Second Straight Year

Posted by Wayne G. Barber 

Atlantic salmon are endangered, with only a few runs remaining in Maine rivers.

In encouraging news, preliminary* numbers of endangered Atlantic salmon returning to Maine’s Penobscot River for 2020 are the highest since 2011. On July 28, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources reported 1,426 salmon returns, up from 1,076 in 2019. These numbers are a vast improvement from 2014, when only 248 Atlantic salmon returned to the river to spawn. The Penobscot River hosts the largest remaining run of Atlantic salmon in the United States, but numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be—75,000 to 100,000 Atlantic salmon used to return to the river to spawn.

“There’s a lot of variability in the salmon runs, and high years can be followed by low years,” cautions NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Salmon Recovery Coordinator Dan Tierney. “We have a long way to go to recover the species, but it’s great to see that we’re moving in the right direction.

Counting Fish in a Box

Every year, returning fish pass through the Milford lift, a fish elevator with a viewing window. Installed in 2014 by hydroelectric dam owner Brookfield Renewable Energy Group, the fish lift provides access to the river above the dam, which otherwise would not be passable.

The fish swim into a box at the base of the Milford Dam, and when filled, the box rises to the top of the dam, and lets the fish out. Staff from both the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Brookfield record the fish as they pass through the viewing window.

In addition to increasing numbers of Atlantic salmon, there is good news for other sea-run fish (fish that move from rivers to sea). Alewife and blueback herring returns have increased dramatically from approximately 2,000 in 2011, to 585,000 in 2015, to more than 1.9 million this year. American shad are up from 2,000 in 2015 to more than 11,000 this year. Other species counted in the lift this year include sea lamprey, white sucker, striped bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, brook trout, and shortnose sturgeon.

Taking Action for Atlantic Salmon Recovery

In 2015, we listed Atlantic salmon as a Species in the Spotlight to help focus resources, grow partnerships, and engage the public in helping save the “King of Fish.” We released a joint Atlantic Salmon Recovery Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019, and are continuing to work in several areas to recover the species.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Vermont: Peregrine Falcon Nesting Season Complete

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

Vermont: Peregrine Falcon Nesting Season Complete

MONTPELIER, VT – Hikers and rock climbers can return to Vermont cliffs starting August 1 now that peregrine falcon nesting season has ended. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has confirmed that all the young falcons have learned to fly and should not be disturbed by human presence on the cliffs.
“The young peregrines have fledged, and nesting data suggest Vermont falcons had a very successful year. A final report will be issued later this year,” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s migratory bird biologist Doug Morin. “The falcon’s nesting success is due to a combination of good weather and the cooperation from hikers and rock climbers who observe a respectful distance from nesting falcons during this critical period. Peregrine nesting success would not be possible without more than 50 volunteers who monitor the nest sites statewide from March to the end of July.”
According to Audubon biologist Margaret Fowle, who coordinates the monitoring effort on behalf of the Fish & Wildlife Department, biologists and volunteers monitored peregrine pairs that occupied at least 56 Vermont cliffs in early spring and summer.
“We greatly appreciate the time and effort volunteers put into monitoring the population this year, and we thank landowners and recreationists for their cooperation in protecting nesting peregrines from human disturbance,” said Fowle.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife and Audubon Vermont partner to monitor and protect peregrine nesting sites in Vermont. Peregrine falcons were removed from the state’s Threatened and Endangered Species List in 2005. Ongoing cooperation from recreationists and continued monitoring efforts by Vermont Fish & Wildlife and Audubon Vermont will help ensure the peregrine’s remarkable recovery in future years.
Media Contacts:
Doug Morin, VT Fish & Wildlife Department 802-793-3837
Margaret Fowle, Audubon Vermont (802) 238-0046
VTF&W photo by Tom Rogers
Vermont cliffs monitored by biologists and volunteers for nesting peregrine pairs this spring and summer are open August 1 for recreationists.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Vermont’s Moose Hunt Auction Closes Aug. 12

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont’s auction for three moose hunting permits is open until 4:30 p.m. August 12.  Bids will be opened and winners notified on August 13.  

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board authorized a total of 55 permits for the 2020 moose season.  Auction winners of three of those permits will hunt in Wildlife Management Unit E in the northeast corner of the state during the October 1-7 archery season, or in the October 17-22 regular season. 

Bids must be entered with a sealed bid form available from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.  A minimum bid of $1,500 is required, and winning bids have typically been at least $4,000 when the number of permits available were higher.  Bids do not include the cost of a hunting license (residents $28, nonresidents $102) or moose hunting permit fee ($100 for residents and $350 for nonresidents). 

Moose permit bid packets can be obtained by calling Fish & Wildlife at 802-828-1190 or by emailing ( 

Proceeds from the moose hunting permit auction help fund Vermont Fish & Wildlife educational programs. 

“Moose density in WMU-E, where the hunt will occur, is more than one moose per square mile, significantly higher than any other part of the state,” said Nick Fortin, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s biologist in charge of the moose project.  “Moose densities greater than one per square mile support high numbers of winter ticks which negatively impact moose health and survival.” 

“Research has shown that lower moose densities, like in the rest of Vermont, support relatively few winter ticks that do not impact moose populations,” said Fortin.  “Reducing moose density decreases the number of available hosts which in turn decreases the number of winter ticks on the landscape.  The goal is to improve the health of moose in WMU E by reducing the impact of winter ticks.” 

Nonresidents are cautioned that COVID-19 travel restrictions could be extended into the fall moose hunting season. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thank You, Congress....

Posted by Wayne G. Barber

House of Representatives Passes Great American Outdoors Act
We’ve reported quite a bit on the Great American Outdoors Act, which combines full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as billions of dollars for maintenance and repairs in the national park system. Last month the Senate passed the bill in an overwhelming show of bipartisan support. Yesterday, the House did the same, finally sending the GAOA to the President, who is expected to sign after Tweeting in support of the legislation months ago.
Briefly, the bill allocates $900 million per year, forever, to the LWCF which goes largely toward acquiring sensitive lands for conservation and preserving access to public lands, while also tossing $6.5 billion over 5 years to the NPS to fix their incredible backlog of maintenance projects. The LWCF is the big deal in this legislation, a crucial program that has teetered on the precipice of outright elimination for years.
While support among Congress and the public is a rare and bright spot of bipartisanship, not all lawmakers support the bill. Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (R) and Senator Mike Lee (R) had urged Congress not to pass the legislation. They argued that spending on public lands during a time of soaring deficits was a financial misstep. The money that’s funneled into the LWCF comes from royalties earned by the federal government for allowing oil and gas drilling on public lands.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam, NH

Posted by Wayne G. Barber &  Photos Property of Wayne G. Barber

Captain Samuel Patch settled in the town of Fitzwilliam on the land surrounding the rhododendron stand in 1788. He or his son, Sam Jr., built the family cottage, affectionately known as the “Old Patch Place,” sometime between 1790 and 1816. Ownership of the house left his family about 1841 and after a series of other owners, Stephen Follansbee purchased the property in 1865. At this time the property first came to public attention, but not just for the majestic rhododendrons. Mr. Follansbee sold bottled mineral water, potted rhododendrons, and silica which he advertised as, “silverette, Flour of the Forest.” This commercial activity, which included a mail-order business, represented the peak of activity at this site which has been forgotten and re-discovered many times during its 200-year history. In 1901 a subsequent owner, Levi Fuller, planned to “lumber off” the property. In reaction to this threat to the rhododendrons, Miss Mary Lee Ware of Boston (and Rindge, NH) purchased the land. She gave it to the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) in 1903 with the stipulation that the rhododendron grove and pine forest “ held as a reservation property protected and open to the public....forever.” The AMC remodeled the “Old Patch Place” as a hostel/clubhouse adjacent to the Metacomet Trail which they had established. The building was ideally located to offer hospitality and shelter. When the operation of a hostel was no longer possible, the AMC transferred the property to the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation. Since 1946, the property has been operated as the State Park system’s only designated botanical park.  The “Old Patch Place” cottage near the park entrance was listed on the  National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

A Botanical History Rhododendron means “rose tree,” and what better way to describe this fragrant, conspicuous and universally popular plant group! Nicknamed “rhodies,” this family of plants is believed to have descended from magnolias. Millions of years ago they originated in Asia, where several relatively primitive forms persist. The earliest North American fossil record dates  from 50 million years ago. Rhododendron maximum is a shade-tolerant species. They prefer acid soils, and grow in association with hemlock, red maple, and here where the soil is drier, yellow birch trees. The plant’s large leaves help it absorb much light. During winter, the leaves curl and droop to conserve moisture and shed snow. The bell-shaped blossoms grow in tight light clusters and bloom in mid-July. Rhododendrons are members of the heath family, which includes blueberries, cranberries, mountain laurel, heathers, trailing arbutuss and wintergreen. You can find several of these relatives growing along the trails in the park.

Rhododendron State Park is named after the 16-acre grove of Rhododendron Maximum, which is the focal point of the park. A 0.6 mile-long universally accessible trail encircles the grove allowing visitors to observe, close up, the fragrant clusters of pink blossoms as they burst into bloom in mid-July.

A wildflower trail, winds through the forest adjacent to the grove. From early spring to the first frost, wildflowers bloom throughout the 2,723-acre park. The last blooms in the fall are complemented by the forest's brilliant foliage. Visitors exploring the trails are often serenaded by song birds which live in the grove.

The rhododendron grove, which is the largest in northern New England, was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1982.

Hot Weather Trout Fishing Tips...

Posted by Wayne G. Barber  & Photo by Wayne G. Barber

 The Outdoor Scene is encouraging anglers to consider their impact on trout when fishing during the current hot weather because many of New England's streams and rivers are at or above stressful temperatures for trout, and flows in most rivers are very low. 


“With air temperatures expected to be close to or above 90 degrees over the next week, we want to offer a few tips on trout fishing.  Trout prefer water temperatures in the upper 50’s to mid-60’s, but hot weather like we’ve been experiencing can push some streams over 70 degrees, which is highly stressful, especially for brook trout,” said fisher Joe Barber.  “If you plan to harvest trout, there’s no need for concern, but catch-and-release angling during hot spells could result in the unintentional death of your released fish.”

“As an alternative, you can switch to fishing for warmwater species such as bass, northern pike, bowfin, or panfish,” he added.


Here is a summary of the Outdoor Scene's tips for fishing during hot summer weather: 

  • Avoid catch-and-release fishing for stream trout when water temps are over 70 degrees.  Fighting and handling a trout under these conditions increases the risk of the fish dying after release.
  • If you do fish trout in streams or rivers with marginal temperatures, play, land and release the fish quickly, and keep it in the water as much as possible while unhooking it.
  • Fish early in the morning when stream temperatures are at their coolest.
  • Avoid fishing in areas where trout have congregated in unusually high numbers.  Springs and coldwater tributary inputs attract fish and make them vulnerable to angling pressure.
  • Switch tactics and target warmwater fish species such as bass, northern pike, pickerel, bowfin, or panfish.

“Over the long term, the single most important thing we can do to protect New England’s wild trout populations is protect and restore forested streambanks,” added Barber
.  Forested streambanks help keep trout streams cool by providing shade from the sun.  The root systems of shrubs and trees also help hold soil together and reduce erosion, and when trees do fall into a stream, they provide habitat, cover and protection for trout and other fish species.”


Anglers interested in protecting trout stream habitat can get involved through angling clubs, local Trout Unlimited chapters and watershed partnership groups.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Phenology Calendar for the last week of June

Posted by Wayne G. Barber Photos by Wayne G. Barber Library

This week in the woods, we’ve been finding flies smooshed to the underside of tree leaves. This is the gruesome work of a parasitic fungus. Although not well understood, the process appears to start with a fungal spore invading the fly. The fly lands on a leaf, and the fungus binds its prey with extra-strength hyphae. You can see a second photo, and find an additional link describing fly-death-by-fungus here.

Song sparrows are common birds of forest clearings (for example, around beaver ponds) and they also pop up in shrubby fields. The birds have a look-alike – Lincoln’s sparrow. Here’s a species profile from Cornell that helps distinguish the two species, and a sampling of song sparrow calls from Cornell’s Macaulay Library.

Suddenly, dainty American copper butterflies are swarming the meadows. Despite the name, according to Larry Weber in Butterflies of New England, the insect “may have been introduced from Europe during colonial times, but there’s no way to be sure.” The American copper is one of many butterflies that look completely different depending on whether viewed when their wings are open or shut. For a look at the pumpkin orange coloring of the butterfly’s inside wings, check out this link.

There are two almost identical wild roses blooming now, Virginia rose (pictured) and Carolina rose. It’s probably best to stop at “wild rose” and declare victory – distinguishing the species involves nitty gritty assessments of thorn shape and the shape of the stipule on the leaf stalk. According to the Native Plant Trust, Virginia rose likes dry habitats – so it must be enjoying our recent weather.

Canadian tiger swallowtails are very active now, chasing each other around the woods and visiting gardens. These insects also have a look-alike (this seems to be the theme of the week) in the eastern tiger swallowtail, but fortunately Bryan Pfeiffer has sorted the two species out in this post on his website. One helpful hint from that post: although individual butterfly markings vary, Canadian tigers typically have a continuous yellow band on the forewing.

Hay-scented fern is abundant and often crowds out other plants. It’s also sticky; if a dog accompanies you on your woods walk, you probably are familiar with its tendency to gum up fur. As explained in this Outside Story article, the stickiness comes from “tiny, glandular hairs” that may also deter deer browsing…and thus help the plant along its path to world domination.

Hairy woodpecker chicks have fledged and are focusing their efforts on harassing their parents for food. One way to distinguish juvenile from mature birds is that the young have big red patches covering most of the top of their heads (not to be confused with the red napes of adult males). Hairy and downy woodpeckers look very similar, but hairies are bigger, with distinctively longer bills. Here's an Outside Story article by Doug Morin that describes the two bird species’ differences.

Back on the topic of ferns – you may notice odd little balls at the tip of ferns, wrapped together in what appears to be spider silk. These are the feeding shelters of moth larvae, specifically moths from the genus Herpetogramma. They’re fun for kids to “unwrap” – look for the little green caterpillar in the center (along with kid-pleasing insect poop). Here’s a YouTube demonstration, and a research paper abstract with more details about the moths.

Finally, this week we’ve noticed the fringy blooms of water avens, a plant that grows on the edges of wetlands. It’s not a particularly showy flower, but at a time when most of the woods has turned dark and green, it stands out. Here’s a profile from The Native Plant Trust.