Sep 202019

Shifting dates, species declines, and surprising newcomers tell us climate change has arrived

For years we used to drive up to Algonquin Park in early summer to take our daughters to camp. One of the highlights of these trips was seeing moose along the side of Highway 60. Getting closeup looks and photographs of these huge and graceful animals was always such a thrill. Now, however, we rarely see them. Moose populations in Ontario have fallen by 20 percent – in some areas, 60 percent – in just the last decade. One of the main causes is climate change. These Canadian icons are poorly adapted to warmer temperatures. They are also dying from brainworm disease, which is arriving courtesy of the northward march of white-tailed deer. Deer are thriving as the climate warns.

Ontario moose are struggling with the warmer temperatures ushered in by climate change. Populations are down by 20 to 60 percent. (Randy Therrien)

White-tailed Deer (Stephenie Armstrong) 










Slowly but steadily, nature in Central Ontario and the Kawarthas is changing. New species are arriving, the dates of key events are shifting, and extreme weather events are becoming more common. For many years now, local naturalists and biologists have been noticing and documenting these changes. What the changes all have in common is a link to a warming climate.

A new timetable

Numerous events are now happening, on average, earlier in the spring, while others are occurring later in the fall.

·       In many parts of their range, bird species are arriving back earlier on their breeding grounds. These include common species like Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and tree swallows. The average egg-laying date for tree swallows is up to nine days earlier across North America.

·       According to an OMNR study from 2012, the peak calling period of early breeding frogs such as spring peepers is now 10-20 days earlier than in 1995.

·       Over the past decade or so, local wildflowers such as trilliums have often reached peak bloom in late April or early May, instead of the long-term average date of mid-May.

·       Earlier plant blooming also means pollen is being released into the air earlier. With more carbon dioxide (C02) in the air, plants are able to grow bigger and produce more pollen.  The pollen season is also lasting longer. Even in downtown Toronto, pollen levels are far above those recorded in the early 2000s. Data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency shows an especially big jump in the ragweed pollen season. In Winnipeg, for example, the plant’s growing season increased by 25 days between 1995 and 2015. If you are a hayfever sufferer like me, this is bad news.

Studies are showing a big increase in the length of the ragweed pollen season. It’s bad news for hayfever sufferers. (Drew Monkman)

Sugar maples (Cy Monkman)










·       On average, peak colour change in the fall leaves is happening later. Last year, for example, the best sugar maple colour was in mid-October instead of late September or early October.

·       The long-term average date for freeze-up of the Kawartha Lakes is mid-December, while the ice is usually out by about April 20. Since the early 2000s, however, the lakes have often been ice-free by early April, while freeze-up hasn’t happened until January. Later freeze-up means that waterfowl are lingering on local lakes until early winter. This trend can be seen in Peterborough Christmas Bird Count records, which date back to 1952.


Plant and animal populations

·       “Southern” birds are expanding their breeding range northwards into Central Ontario. These include red-bellied woodpeckers, which many people now see at their feeders.

·       A study based on 22 years of data from Project FeederWatch has shown that as minimum winter temperatures have increased, birds that used to spend the winter solely in the south are now wintering further north.

·       Virginia opossums and white-footed mice, both of which are southern species, have now extended their range into the Kawarthas. According to Trent University researcher, Dr. Jeff Bowman, bobcats – another southern species – are also expanding into Ontario. At the same time, the lynx’s range is contracting northwards.

According to Trent University researcher, Dr. Jeff Bowman, bobcats are expanding their range northward into Ontario and are expected to become more common. (Drew Monkman)

Flying squirrels at Sandy Lake near Buckhorn (Mike Barker)










·       Research done by Bowman and his colleagues has also showed that during a series of warm winters between 1995 and 2003, the southern flying squirrel rapidly expanded its northern range limit. Their study demonstrated that these southern species are mating with their northern counterpart, the northern flying squirrel. This has resulted in a hybrid zone right here in the Kawarthas. The researchers believe that the range expansion and interbreeding is a possible effect of climate change.

·       Southern butterfly species are also moving north into the Kawarthas. The most noticeable and common of these is the giant swallowtail, Canada’s biggest butterfly. Until recently, this species’ Canadian range was restricted to southwestern Ontario.

·       Although the past few summers have seen greatly increased monarch butterfly numbers in the Kawarthas, the long-term prospects for this iconic insect are poor. Climate change-related droughts and abnormal weather patterns along the Canada to Mexico migration route are impacting numbers, as are winter storms on the Mexican wintering grounds. Warming in Mexico is also expected to disrupt the monarch’s period of reproductive diapause (suspension). If diapause ends too early, reproductive success will suffer.

·       Insects such as mosquitoes and ticks are thriving in our warmer climate, with some new species spreading northward. In the past, their range was restricted by colder winter temperatures. The greater number of frost-free days is also allowing for a longer reproduction season. The black-legged tick, which carries the Lyme disease bacteria, is now well-established in the Kawarthas. Hundreds of ticks are submitted annually to Peterborough Public Health from all over our region. In the 1990s, this species was found in only one region of the province.

·       We are seeing a marked increase in the abundance of non-native, invasive plant species. These include common reed (Phragmites), dog-strangling vine, and garlic mustard. Non-native invasives are more adaptable to a warming world than most native plants. They also have mostly negative impacts on our wildlife.

Phragmites on a roadside south of Peterborough – Photo by Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy – always a longer stem on middle leaflet; leaflets often asymmetrical; shiny; usually droop down a little – Drew Monkman










·       Poison ivy is increasing both in abundance and in size. Its growth has been turbocharged by warmer temperatures and rising levels of carbon dioxide. The plants are also producing a more potent form of urushiol, the oily sap that causes the rash.

Concern for the future

By 2030, it’s expected that Peterborough will be about 2 C warmer in each season. We can also expect a huge increase in the number of days above 30 C. By 2060, temperatures are projected to be 5 C warmer. The climate of the Kawarthas will be like southern Pennsylvania today. What will this mean for our flora and fauna?

·       A number of iconic birds may no longer be able to breed here, their ecoregion (i.e., habitat requirements) having moved further north. The call of the common loon is likely to disappear from the Kawartha Lakes.

Common Loon (Karl Egressy)

Adult Round Goby (Michael Fox)











·       The health of our forests will suffer as a result of higher temperatures, drought, windstorms, invasive plants, insect pests, and fungal infections. Species such as white pine, sugar maple, and white spruce may disappear from the Kawarthas entirely as their climate zone will have moved north.

· As water temperatures increase, our lakes and wetlands will also be impacted. Although warm-water fish like large-mouthed bass should be able to cope, cool and cold-water fish like walleye and trout will struggle to survive here. The conditions may allow non-native fish like round goby to thrive and out-compete native species for food. There will likely be an increase in the types and abundance of other invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian water-milfoil.

The changes we are seeing in nature in the Kawarthas represent a “canary in the coal mine” warning that climate change is happening now. But, like the proverbial frog in water that is slowly brought to a boil, we seem unable or unwilling to react to this sinister and deadly threat to the future of all life on the planet. The climate crisis should be top-of-mind when we cast our votes in October.

What to watch for this week

Southbound white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos should be arriving in local backyards in the coming days. They are easy to attract by spreading millet or finch mix on the ground, preferably close to your feeder. The sparrows will linger for several weeks, before departing. Juncos sometimes stay all winter.

White-throated sparrow (Karl Egressy)

Juncos and white-throated sparrows feeding on ground (Drew Monkman)









Climate Crisis News

Be sure to drop by the climate-crisis booth at the Purple Onion Festival at Millennium Park on Sunday, Sept. 22. There will be information on how to reduce your personal carbon footprint as well as petitions to be signed to urge city council to declare a climate emergency as soon as possible. Other climate events scheduled for the coming weeks include the Global Climate Action Day (Sept. 27 at Millennium Park from 12:00-3:00 pm) and 100 Debates on the Environment (Oct. 3 at the Students Centre at Trent University from 7:00-9:00 pm.) The local candidates in the federal election will be taking part. This event had previously been scheduled to take place at Trinity United Church. 100 Debates for the Environment is a non-partisan, nationwide effort to highlight environmental issues in the election. More information can be found at






Oct 032018

Barred Owl (Strix varia) (1)
– Reported Oct 28, 2018 07:35 by Tim Haan
– 169 Pencil Lake Road, Kinmount, Ontario, CA (44.816, -78.364), Peterborough, Ontario
– Checklist:

Barred Owl (Strix varia) (1)
– Reported Oct 28, 2018 16:25 by Tim Haan
– 6152 Ontario 28, Woodview, Ontario, CA (44.59, -78.145), Peterborough, Ontario
– Checklist:
– Comments: “Fly across the road”

Barred Owl (Strix varia) (1)
– Reported Oct 28, 2018 14:30 by Kim Zippel
– Peterborough–Harper Park, Peterborough, Ontario
– Checklist:
– Comments: “Identified by call”

Barred Owl – Jeff Keller 12 01 14








Woodland Jumping Mouse?

I am emailing you some photos of a mouse I trapped in our old farmhouse basement on Parkhill Road W. I remember, a couple years ago, cutting tall grass in a field near our house seeing what I thought was a mouse or rat that was moving like a kangaroo. The mouse in the photo has short fore legs and long and more muscular hind legs.  Allen Rodgers

N.B. At first I thought this was a Woodland Jumping Mouse. However, I was mistaken. This is in fact a Deer Mouse. The angle, and the way the damp fur on the back legs is positioned, make the back legs appear abnormally long (and the fore legs short). I’d like to thank Tim Dyson and Don Sutherland for the correct identification. To see a Woodland Jumping Mouse, scroll down.

Tim wrote:  “The jumping mouse’s body (without tail) is only about 1/3 its total length  (with the tail). It has quite yellowish fur dulling a little towards brownish on the back, and a”paler” (not bright white as the mouse in the photo) belly. It also has very long toes at the tips of VERY long hind feet.”

Here is additional information on the Woodland Jumping Mouse from Don Sutherland, zoologist at the Natural Heritage Information Centre here in Peterborough.

” The Woodland Jumping Mouse is common, but hard to see. It’s strictly a forest species preferring mesic/fresh-to-moist tracts with dense herbaceous and low shrub understoreys. Individuals may venture out to forest edges with similarly dense understoreys. In open woodlands you’re more likely to encounter Meadow Jumping Mouse which occurs in a wide variety of relatively dry to wet habitats and has a far more extensive provincial range. Jumping mice don’t emerge from ‘hibernation’ until sometime in May and disappear again sometime in September, perhaps making them even less likely to be encountered. I once unearthed a Meadow Jumping Mouse from a compost pile in early November. It was in deep torpor, curled in a ball and with its long tail wrapped around it. It felt cold in my hand and not wanting to arouse it, I quickly returned it to the compost pile and buried it.

The mouse in the photo looks like a Peromyscus to me and most likely P. maniculatus (Deer Mouse). Both Woodland and Meadow jumping mice have bright ochre/orange sides and relatively shorter ears. I’ve never heard of a jumping mouse entering a human habitation, but I suppose it’s possible. Deer mice, on the other hand, regularly enter human habitations. The ‘Prairie’ Deer Mouse (P. m. bairdii) moved into southern Ontario following European land clearance and is now the common Peromyscus of open habitats in southern Ontario, occurring everywhere from corn fields to urban gardens.”

Deer Mouse – October 2018 – Parkhill Rd. West – Allen Rodgers

Woodland Jumping Mouse, Napaeozapus insignis – John Fowler
















Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) (1)
– Reported Oct 21, 2018 16:24 by Mike V.A. Burrell
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
– Media: 3 Photos
– Comments: “Very Rare! Found earlier by Don Sutherland. I stopped at nw corner of south cell to scope east shore where it had been seen earlier but it flushed from close to me and flew into centre of north cell. I watched it for a bit there before a scalp approached it and it circled then headed west towards river. Heard several times giving high pitched chip call.”


Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) (1)
– Reported Oct 19, 2018 13:45 by Mike V.A. Burrell
– Hwy 28-Between Apsley and Peterborough Cty bndry, Peterborough, Ontario
– Comments: “Juv bird being chased by CORA at North kawartha Con. 18. Large all dark eagle with prominent white patches at base of inner primaries and tail feathers.”

Juvenile Golden Eagle – USFWS











Cardinal on north shore of Stoney Lake

On October 19, there was a female Northern Cardinal on my deck railing on Northey’s Bay Road on the north shore of Stoney Lake. I have never ever seen one here. Very exciting! Bet Curry
N.B. Cardinals are rarely seen in Peterborough County this far north. D.M.

Female cardinal above male (Kelly Dodge)











Hermit Thrush at 51 Maple Crescent

Today, October 16, I had a Hermit Thrush in the yard. I was able to see that the tail was distinctly more reddish than the back. At first I thought it was a Fox Sparrow, which I often have at my feeder in mid- to late October.  Drew Monkman

Hermit Thrush – Wikimedia








Moose seen at Stoney Lake

Last Friday morning (Oct. 12) at around 7:00 a.m, a couple of my neighbours, who were alerted by their dogs’ barking, spotted a Moose wandering around our cottage properties (including mine) on McNaughton’s Bay, which is a small bay off of South Bay at the east end of Stoney Lake.  The barking apparently didn’t faze the moose at all, and it carried on westward along the shoreline of our properties.  Antje and I were still asleep at the time, but one of my neighbours forwarded these pictures to me.  I’ve never seen a Moose anywhere near this area in the 35 years I’ve been here, nor have my neighbours who have had their cottage here for 40-plus years.  René Gareau

Moose – McNaughton’s Bay – Stoney Lake – October 12, 2018 via René Gareau












Pine Siskins at Stoney Lake feeder

Today, October 11, I have 4 Pine Siskins at a feeder. Last winter I saw zero.
All of the usuals are here as well, including 2 White-crowned Sparrows.
In the last several weeks I have also seen, a half dozen times, an immature Bald Eagle patrolling the Gilchrist Bay/ Duck Pond area. Rob Welsh, Dodsworth Island, Stoney Lake

Pine Siskin (by Karl Egressy)

White-crowned Sparrow – Mike Barker















Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) (6) via eBird
– Reported Oct 07, 2018 14:30 by Steve Paul
– Briar Hill Bird Sanctuary, Peterborough, Ontario
– Media: 3 Photos
– Comments: “Middle of flock in field amongst CG. Five together (1 adult white, 1 juvenile white, 1 adult blue morph, 2 juvenile blue morph), plus another adult about 10 ft away.”

Snow Geese (Marcel Boulay)








Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) (2)  via eBird
– Reported Oct 06, 2018 12:47 by Daniel Williams
– Peterborough–Omemee Rotary Rail Trail, Peterborough, Ontario

Horned Lark (by Karl Egressy)









Bald Eagles at Stoney Lake

I saw a second-year Bald Eagle (immature) flying over the east end of Stoney Lake (South Bay) last Saturday, Sept. 29. Today, October 4, I had another eagle sighting at 12:42 pm. This one was a beautiful adult eagle gliding gracefully over South Bay, with clear blue skies as a backdrop… wonderful sighting! South Bay is located at the east end of Stoney Lake. Rene Gareau, Peterborough

Adult Bald Eagle (Karl Egressy)

Immature Bald Eagle – Otonabee R. – Feb. 3, 2017 – Gwen Forsyth











Snow Geese on Otonabee River

Today, October 4, there are 5 Snow Geese mixed in with a flock of Canada Geese on the Otonabee River at the north end of Trent University. Carl Welbourn, Kawartha Camera Club

Snow Geese – Otonabee R. – Oct. 4, 2018 – Carl Welbourn

Snow Geese with single Canada Goose – Otonabee R. – Oct. 4, 2018 – Carl Welbourn











Blackburnian Warbler (1) via eBird
– Reported Oct 02, 2018 13:25 by Brendan Boyd
– Peterborough–Jackson Park, Peterborough, Ontario
– Comments: “Late”

Blackburnian Warbler in spring  – Karl Egressy









Chestnut-sided Warbler (1) via eBird
– Reported Oct 02, 2018 13:25 by Alexandra Israel
– Peterborough–Jackson Park, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map:,-78.3405192&ll=44.3118937,-78.3405192
– Checklist:

Male Chestnut-sided warbler in spring – Jeff Keller








Wilson’s Warbler  (1) via eBird
– Reported Oct 02, 2018 12:10 by Iain Rayner
– PTBO – Edgewater road and Railway, Peterborough, Ontario
– Comments: “Along tracks, seen well from point blank range, pure yellow underneath, green on back, distinct black cap and long dark tail…possibly continuing.”

Wilson’s Warbler – Wikipedia (Mike’s Birds)








Snow Goose (5) via eBird
– Reported Oct 01, 2018 14:20 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “white morph adults with 26 Canada Geese, circled lagoons and flew off to WNW toward Lake Katchewanooka”

Snow Goose – Rice Lake – Oct. 18, 2014

Nov 182017

The news about the American Chestnut trees that I have been bringing along up near Kinmount for the last 15 years is not good, I’m afraid. First: None of the nuts I planted last Fall sprouted so I had no new seedlings to plant this year. Second: I think because we had such a cold and wet Spring, only one of my three trees produced blossoms. Being dioecious (separate male and female trees), this meant there was virtually no hope of producing viable nuts this Summer, unless there are surviving American Chestnut trees nearby. Third: I hope it was due to a late frost but the new growth of leaves on all three of my trees exhibited noticeable deformation, although the remainder of the trees remained healthy-looking until they dropped their leaves. I’m hopeful that this isn’t a symptom of that devastating blight.
I am happy to report though that we saw bats at our cabin regularly through the Summer. I would say that their numbers are coming back up there. We also saw quite a few Monarch butterflies; more than in the past several Summers. We have never seen so many Moose as this summer: Two siblings (I presume) together on a game camera in the Spring, one big bull Moose in September and another, different bull Moose just a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, only two days after we saw the first bull Moose in our meadow, huge rack and all, my wife had a collision with him on Crystal Lake Road. Miraculously, and thankfully, she was completely unhurt, although the car was extensively damaged. The only other bit of good news coming from that is that the Moose ran off into the woods, apparently unhurt. The Moose we caught on camera a couple of weeks ago was younger, with a smaller rack and he appeared healthy.
We saw a Quail crossing Fire Route 397, and I believe they are considered endangered in Ontario now. For the first time ever we captured a Pine Marten (I believe) on a game camera. We also caught many does, a few bucks, several foxes, turkeys, raccoons, porcupines, rabbits, coyotes/wolves/coywolves . . . and a hunter trespassing on our property, shotgun in hand, who stole one of our game cameras. As always, notifying the police is a waste of time. He better not have shot one of our quail, or anything else for that matter.

Michael Doran, Peterborough

Pine Marten – Gord Belyea

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

Jan 162017

In late December 2016, a Moose was killed in a vehicle collision on Highway 60 in Algonquin Park. On January 5, 2017, this Moose was moved to the valley below the Visitor Centre. For Algonquin Park’s predators, winter can be a challenging time to find food. Animals feeding upon prey, either alive or dead, is rarely observed. Strategically placing a Moose carcass in an easily observable location, such as below the viewing deck at the Visitor Centre, provides a rare opportunity for visitors to watch in person or via the Algonquin Park Webcam.  Ravens, Eastern Wolves and Fishers have been feeding at the carcass, among other species.

Moose carcass as seen from Visitor Centre – Algonquin Park




May 012014

There was a Moose calf yesterday morning on 5th Line at Chemong Road . It was  behind a small house.

Jeff Keller

Moose near Chemong Road - April 30, 2014 - Jeff Keller

Moose near Chemong Road – April 30, 2014 – Jeff Keller

Apr 232014
Moose in roadside ditch - Terry Carpenter

Moose in roadside ditch – Terry Carpenter

This morning, I got a call from a neighbour who said a Moose was looking in her window at Scotsman’s Point Resort on Six Foot Bay Road

. When it left through the bush, it crossed our firelane (40) and I got a few photos. Either a youngster, or a female (no antlers). It certainly wasn’t shy – I left when it started walking toward me! 

Well, I thought it was gone. However, an hour later I set off for a walk with the dog, and the Moose was standing in the bush close to our house. The dog naturally started barking at it, both of them had their hackles up. Then the Moose started walking toward the dog. Camera still in my pocket, I got more pics. I backed up to a neighbour’s house with the Moose following. Soon there were 7 people and 2 dogs all near it, and the Moose as calm as could be. He wasn’t interested in the apples that were offered.

I have no experience with these creatures. Is it normal for them to be so tame? It didn’t appear to be sick or mangy, or even confused. When he got bored with us, he slowly wandered away. What a morning! I love the Kawarthas!

Toni Sinclair, Six Foot Bay Road, Buckhorn


Jan 082014
Moose on McCoy Bay Road (Jackie Lean)

Moose on McCoy Bay Road (Jackie Lean)

On December 25, 2013, my sister, Jackie Lean and her family saw 3 Moose on  McCoy Bay Road. The road is east of Apsley and extends  south from County Road 504 to Jack Lake.  One male (with antlers) and two females (no antlers) were seen – see photo.

Sheelagh Hysenaj


Dec 122013

Moose hunt postmortemBull with the heart of lion enters hunt camp lore; why hunters aren’t engaged in climate change battle    

a stark beauty

a stark beauty

One of my reasons for taking part in a Moose hunt in northern Quebec this fall was to better understand why my friend, Raynald Pilon, has an almost obsessive love of Moose hunting. I was also interested in how he and other hunters feel about the future of “la chasse” and why there isn’t more of an outcry against the threat of climate change to our hunting and fishing heritage.

During several of our memorable meals, I took some time to ask both Raynald and his hunting partner, Claude Moisan, why they are so passionate about Moose hunting. The reasons they gave were many. Naturally, they mentionned the beautiful landscapes, the solitude, the camaraderie and the joy of simply getting away from everything. They also talked about the pleasure of returning year after year to the same hunting territory and really getting to know it intimately – everything from the specific habitats and locations the Moose frequent to the types of plants they eat. They also impressed upon me once again that the world of the Moose is incredibly complex and, to be a successful, a hunter needs to acquire many different skills. One of the most challenging is learning to reproduce the many sounds that Moose make and using them in the right context. Therefore, when your skills, patience and experience all come together and result in a successful hunt, there is a huge sense of satisfaction. The actual shooting and killing of the animal is only a tiny part of the whole.

Raynald also made the important point that Moose meat is wonderful. Not only is it a lean, but you would almost think you are eating a tender cut of beef. He explained that the quality of the meat depends to a large degree on following the correct procedures after the animal is killed. This is when the hard work begins. The carcass needs to be bled, emptied of internal organs and quartered as soon as possible. The quarters then have to be cooled down by providing as much air flow as possible around the meat. If they make a kill late in the day or far from the camp, Raynald and Claude often build a platform from small tree trunks for this purpose. The quarters are then placed on the platform. A day or two later, they bring them back to camp by boat or ATV to hang in a meat house they have constructed. The quarters are then flown out by float plane and prepared by a butcher.

Moose antlers on outside wall of camp (Drew Monkman)

Moose antlers on outside wall of camp (Drew Monkman)

Richard the Lionhearted

As you can well imagine, Raynald and Claude have intense, detailed memories of hunts past, including how they found each animal, killed it, retrieved the meat and even named it. The prospect of experiencing new, equally-memorable adventures is therefore a big part of why they return each year.

Maybe the most remarkable story they told me was about a bull they called Richard the Lionhearted. Named both for its “heart” (i.e., never giving up) and the atypical, almost lion-like grunting sounds it made, they first encountered Richard in 1991. Unfortunately for Richard, they had just killed the cow that he was courting. As they paddled up to the shore where the cow lay   – it was already dark by this time – they were startled by loud, unmoose-like grunts emanating out of the darkness right beside them. Claude remembers the hair on the back of his neck literally standing on end. The banging and splashing of the animal’s hooves on the rocks in the shallow water spoke volumes of its imposing size. Standing just metres away in the glare of the flashlight, this was one mad Moose. Raynald thought the animal was going to charge the canoe at any second. Only after they started yelling and banging paddles did the enraged Moose reluctantly retreat.

The following autumn, they came across Richard once again. Raynald heard the bull’s distinctive grunts coming from high on a hill. He managed to approach the animal and found it “talking” back and forth with a cow. However, the two Moose took off before he could get a shot. About a week later, while paddling to one of the blinds, he heard and saw them again. This time Raynald was able to take a clear shot, and the bull appeared to drop to the ground. However, being a neophyte hunter and wanting to get help, he paddled down the lake and got Claude. When they arrived back, the Moose was no where to be seen. Naturally, they began looking for it. Claude walked along the shoreline, while Raynald took a parallel route further up the hill. Claude was the first to see the injured Moose and shot at it from behind. Raynald, hearing the shot, looked down the hill and saw it standing motionless. He, too, took a shot, and the bull collapsed to the ground. Without thinking, the two of them ran up to the animal, put down their rifles and hugged each other in celebration. This is not something they would ever do again. All of a sudden, the never-say-die   bull sprang to its feet and bolted through heavy bush out into the shallow water of the bay. Despite the heavy dose of adrenaline coursing through his veins, Raynald somehow managed to get off a shot but Richard kept on going. Only when he stumbled out of the water on the far shore did a fifth and final bullet bring him down for good. As you can well imagine, they haven’t come up against a mightier, tenacious Moose since. Readers should note that this type of hunting scenario is very rare. Usually, only one or two shots are sufficient to kill a Moose and any suffering is minimal. In fact, death at the hands of a hunter is probably more humane than how these animals usually die, namely from disease, starvation or a predator.

Future of hunting

I also talked to Raynald and Claude about what concerns them most with regard to the future of hunting. Clearly, their biggest worry is the lack of recruitment of young people. They both told me that even their own children are only mildly interested. Not only does this bode poorly for the future of hunting but also for the future of the wildlife and wildlands that hunting organizations help to maintain.

Claude with cow shot this fall (Raynald Pilon)

Claude with cow shot this fall (Raynald Pilon)

I also brought up something that has bothered me for years. Why doesn’t the hunting and angling community speak out more forcefully when it comes to the issue of climate change? I’m not sure that my friends could really answer this question other than to say that hunters tend to be very individualistic and are not big fans of government intervention and regulations. A couple of days ago, I talked to Dawn Suce, a biologist at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) about this concern. She explained to me that OFAH representatives do indeed sit on numerous provincial committees that work to promote biodiversity and adaptation to a changing climate. She also spoke about the many “on the ground” conservation initiatives that the organization carries out. As commendable as this is, what I find lacking are strong public pronouncements and lobbying by organizations like OFAH about the crucial importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I would have thought that hunters and anglers themselves would be demanding action in this regard simply out of their own self-interest. Climate change is posed to transform the face of hunting and fishing utterly and entirely. To give just one example, Moose populations across the southern part of their range (e.g., Manitoba, New Hampshire, Minnesota) are plummeting as a result of winter tick infestations. Many biologists believe that this phenomenon is almost certainly linked to a warming climate. If hunters only realized that politicians, especially at the federal level, are selling them out and putting their hunting and angling heritage at risk – as well as their children’s future – they would be screaming from the rooftops for action.

Some of you may be asking yourself whether we ended up getting a Moose this fall. The answer is yes, but 24 hours after I left! Raynald shot a cow not far from one of the blinds where I had spent an entire day. As much as I regret having not been there to see all that happens after a kill, at least I dodged the existential crisis of having a Moose present itself in front of me and forcing me to decide “do I shoot or not?”


More pictures of the Moose hunt can be seen in the Photos section of this website.




Dec 032013

Heavy bodied and long-legged, Moose (Alces alces) are the largest inhabitants of the boreal forest. A mature bull can easily weigh 1000 lbs and measure almost seven feet tall at the top of the back hump. In late September, Moose are in rut – a period of high sexual energy as aggressive bulls compete for cows. It is also the time of year when Moose hunters across Canada head to the woods. This fall, thanks to my friend, Raynald Pilon,  and his hunting partner, Claude Moisan, I got to go along. Our destination was Rene-Levasseur Island on the huge Manicouagan Reservoir of northeastern Quebec.

Raynald imitating the call of a cow Moose

Raynald imitating the call of a cow Moose

Moose hunting involves far more than I ever imagined. First and foremost, Raynald and Claude impressed upon me the importance of being quiet. Moose have extremely acute hearing, along with the ability to pin point the exact location of any sound. It is therefore necessary to keep conversation to a minimum, whisper when you really need to say something and wear clothing such as wool and synthetic fleece that doesn’t make unnatural sounds. Gore-Tex, polyesters and even jeans can be quite noisy and are to be avoided. If a Moose hears something that is not part of the natural soundscape, it won’t be sticking around for long. However, noises such as branches breaking do not arouse suspicion. They are sounds that Moose are used to, as are the various vocalizations that these majestic mammals make.

For hunters, being able to accurately imitate the Moose’s different calls is an essential skill. Claude and Raynald both use a traditional birch bark cone for this purpose. The cone serves to greatly amplify their voices. They mimic both the short, throaty grunts – a sort of “ouuahhhh” – of the bull and the longer-lasting plaintive moans of the cow. The wail of a cow in heat can be heard for several kilometres in calm weather. Bulls within hearing distance will move towards her, making grunting sounds as they approach. However, the bull knows he’s not the only suitor with sex on the brain and fully expects to see and hear other males. By imitating the grunts, the hunter can therefore entice a bull to present itself, since the animal assumes there is probably a female nearby as well. Claude was particularly addicted to mimicking Moose grunts and couldn’t stop making the sound, even back at camp during supper!

Claude spraying synthetic urine

Claude spraying synthetic urine

To further advertise his presence to opponents, the bull will aggressively thrash small trees and shrubs with his antlers. As you might expect, hunters do this, too. Claude actually had a section of antler from a previous hunt that he used for this purpose. If there is a Moose in the vicinity and it hears these thrashing sounds, it is likely to come in to investigate.  If two bulls should actually meet while courting a female, they will sometimes spar with one another. More often, however, the bull with the smaller antlers simply retreats without a fight.

Moose also have an incredibly keen sense of smell. During the rut, a bull will often dig a muddy pit in which he urinates. He will then lie in the pit to “perfume” himself.  The scent will not only attract cows but serves to advertise his presence to other bulls. The urine of a cow in heat is also a powerful attractant. And yes, hunters take advantage of this, too. I watched in bewilderment as Raynald and Claude sprayed synthetic Moose urine on rags, which they had attached to small trees around their hunting blinds. This is powerful stuff. I ended up getting a bit on a glove and I can still smell it.

The Daily Routine

The blind at the south end of Lac Fourchette

The blind at the south end of Lac Fourchette

We got up each morning at about 6 a.m., had a copious breakfast, dressed warmly – the temperatures was 3-8 C most days and there was often rain – and were out into the field by 7:30 most days. We didn’t return to camp until dark, since Moose are often quite active late in the day. Claude hunted from one of five blinds or stands – small, elevated, wooden shelters with windows on three sides – that he and Raynald have constructed over the years. Hunting from a blind mostly involves sitting quietly and hoping that an animal will present itself – possibly lured in by the calls, thrashing and scents described above. Raynald, however, prefers to actually stalk the animals. I had the pleasure of accompanying him one day to see how this is done.

Walking slowly through the woods and often along well-trodden trails used by the Moose, we stopped every minute or so to look and especially to listen. On a calm day, it’s possible to hear the grunts, moans or breaking branches made by a Moose at considerable distances.  We also kept an eye out for signs of recent Moose activity such as fresh tracks, droppings, rubbed tree trunks or browsed willow twigs. On several occasions, Raynald also used his voice and cone to imitate the wail of a cow Moose. Over the course of the day, we walked – and, in one section, paddled – at least five kilometres through bogs, alder swamps, over Beaver dams and across a huge area that had succumbed to a forest fire in 2005. Negotiating our way through the obstacle course of fallen, charred trees was quite the challenge. Fortunately, we had a hand-held GPS to help with direction.  Although we didn’t find any Moose – or even any recent signs – there was always something of interest to photograph or identify. We inspected several piles of wolf scat, flushed Spruce Grouse, ate big handfuls of delicious blueberries, and were always surrounded by stunningly beautiful scenery. As Raynald explained to me, the pleasure of “la chasse fine” – as it is called in French – comes from putting all of your knowledge of Moose behaviour to the test, as well as your physical stamina and powers of concentration and patience. There is also the aesthetic pleasure of being so closely in touch with the land. All of this makes the satisfaction of an eventual kill all the greater.

The blind in the NE arm of Lac Fourchette

The blind in the NE arm of Lac Fourchette

Whereas Raynald stalk hunted most days, Claude and I would usually each take a canoe and head off to separate blinds in different arms of the lake. In addition to a rifle, I took along binoculars, a camera, various field guides and a journal. Being able to spend an entire day in one location simply watching, listening and experiencing total solitude was a rare treat. Here are a few extracts from my journal.

07:50 – Arrive at watch in NE fork of Lac Fourchette. Sunny and clear. Beautiful juxtaposition of the dark green of the Black Spruce,  smoky gold of the Tamarack and lemon yellow of the White Birch.

08:01 – Pair of loons arrive on bay.

08:10 – Red Squirrel scolds loudly. Probably upset by my presence.

09:15 – Notice several Beaver lodges along the shore. One has winter food pile with leaves still on branches.

View from northeast blind

View from the NE blind

10:00 – Surprisingly loud, squeaky whistles of a Gray Jay. Lands on salt lick.

11: 18 – Common Raven flies over, calling loudly.

12:00 – Sun is finally warm. Removed a couple of layers of clothes.

14:00 – Go for a walk. See Brook Trout in stream. Try to identify some of the mosses and lichens.

15:03 – Utter quiet except for wind, waves lapping up on shore and rattling of windows in the blind.

15:57 – Sun is now in the western sky. Birches shining golden in its rays.

18:00 – Head back to camp. Silence of electric motor allows me to get within 10 feet of Beaver with aspen twigs in its mouth.

A glimpse inside the hunt camp

A glimpse inside the hunt camp

Each day concluded with a magnificent meal – usually Moose meat, courtesy of the animal they killed last year. We also enjoyed one of Raynald’s Landlocked Salmon from the Manicouagan and Claude’s smoked Brook Trout, taken from Lac Fourchette this past July. Then, over a glass of port, the two long-time hunting partners regaled me with stories of past hunts such as one very memorable bull, “Richard the Lionhearted.”

Pretending to be a Moose hunter

Pretending to be a Moose hunter!

More about him next week.

Nov 212013

A naturalist on the Moose hunt – part one

Raynald and Claude in front of the hunt camp

Claude (left) and Raynald in front of the hunt camp

I had rarely experienced such intense silence. Yes, there were sounds, but they were the sounds of undisturbed nature – the whispering of spruce and birch swaying in the wind, the harsh chatter of a disgruntled Red Squirrel and the loud whistles of a Gray Jay. This was the resonance of nature at its most natural – a soundscape that is nearly impossible to find these days. Obtrusive, man-made sounds were completely absent, save the passing of a float plane once or twice a day. But there was one group of sounds in particular that I was hoping to hear – the grunting, moaning and thrashing of Moose during the rut.

In mid-September, I made the 1500 kilometre trip to the Manicouagan Reservoir in northeastern Quebec to experience a Moose hunt. This man-made lake is located at approximately 51 degrees north latitude, between Baie Comeau and the Labrador border. The hunt camp itself is on l’Ile Rene-Levasseur, a huge island in the centre of the lake. The lake and island are clearly visible from space and are sometimes called the “eye of Quebec.” For many years, my friend Raynald Pilon, a physician in Fermont, Quebec, had regaled me with stories of his annual Moose hunt, the incredible emotions involved and the stark beauty of the boreal forest landscape. This year, I was invited to come and join Raynald and his long-time hunting companion, Claude Moisan, to see why they are so passionate about la “chasse a l’orignal.”

Some people may be surprised that I should want to take part in a hunt. However, I have never been opposed to most types of sustainable hunting. I also don’t want to be a hypocrite. I still eat red meat on occasion and realize that someone has to kill the animal. Hunters simply eliminate this middle man. Secondly, I would probably never have become a naturalist if it wasn’t for a hunter. The late Maurice Clarkson, a well-known Peterborough physician and avid duck hunter, was also a very knowledgeable birder. He used to take me and his son, Peter, on bird-watching outings and taught us a lot about identification.

One of the world’s most influential ecologists and environmentalists, Aldo Leopold, enjoyed hunting, too. In his famous book “A Sand County Almanac” (1949), there is a wonderful essay on Ruffed Grouse hunting entitled “Smoky Gold.” Beautifully composed, Leopold describes his love of season, of trees – especially the smoky gold Tamaracks of October – and his love of grouse hunting. Not only have his ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement but reading Aldo Leopold was largely what inspired me to write my first book, “Nature’s Year in the Kawarthas.”

Hunting, for most of our evolutionary history, was the way in which humans experienced nature. Only in recent decades have large numbers of us had the luxury of the free time and resources to enjoy the natural world as mostly a leisure pursuit. Still, I am well aware that hunters and naturalists/environmentalists are often at odds with one another. I was therefore hoping that by experiencing a Moose hunt, I would discover more about what these two groups have in common and where they differ.

Stark but beautiful landscape

Stark but beautiful landscape

Having taught in this part of Quebec for two years in the late 1970s, I knew that rediscovering the flora and fauna of the boreal forest would be a treat in itself. Moose or no Moose, I would not be bored. As Raynald and I made the one hour hike from his main camp on the shore of Rene-Levasseur Island to his smaller hunting and fishing camp on Lac Fourchette, it was like reacquainting myself with old friends. I had forgotten just how different the boreal forest is from the forests we are used to in the Kawarthas. First of all, thee vast majority of the trees are conifers, with Black Spruce the dominant species. There are also smaller pockets of White Spruce, Balsam Fir, Tamarack (Larch) and Jack Pine.  As for broad-leaved species, these are limited to scattered stands of Trembling Aspen and White Birch.

But the understory is what I find most interesting. It is made up primarily of shrubs in the Ericaceae family (heathers), a group of flowering plants most common acid and infertile growing conditions. These include abundant Labrador Tea, Sheep-laurel and Blueberry. This year, the Blueberries were so heavily laden with fruit that you could literally pull off a handful with one swipe of the hand. Other common understory species include Bunchberry (its red berries almost looking like drops of blood on the ground), Swamp Birch, Swamp Red Currant, Twinflower, Squashberry, Black Chokeberry, Mountain Alder, Speckled Alder, willows, cranberries and a host of different mosses and lichens.  In fact, the mosses and lichens form a vast, mattress-like green carpet over the forest floor that almost beckons you to lie down and have a nap. Sorting out all of the different species, however, will have to wait for a future trip.


Beaver lodge south of  Lac Fourchette

Beaver lodge south of Lac Fourchette

It is estimated that the avian population of the boreal represents 60% of the landbirds in all of Canada. However, by mid-September, the majority of these have already departed for more southern climes.  The species I saw and heard most often was the Gray Jay, also known as the Canada Jay. Most days, we also encountered Spruce Grouse, Dark-eyed Juncos, Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows. A Common Raven occasionally passed over and both a Bald Eagle and Northern Goshawk put in an appearance. Migrating flocks of American Robins and Bohemian Waxwings were also seen on several occasions. On Lac Fourchette, a family group of Common Loons kept us company, as did three Common Mergansers. As for mammals, Red Squirrels were a constant presence and Beaver ponds, dams and lodges were everywhere. Judging by the amount of scat we saw, Gray Wolves were certainly in the area, as well. Some of the scat contained bones as big as quarters. Most importantly for our purposes, however, the island also has a healthy Moose population. Raynald and Claude kill a bull, cow or calf most years and signs of Moose activity are usually fairly easy to find. We were therefore watching closely for recent tracks, droppings, browsed shrubs and both rubs and scrapes on tree bark.

The camp itself was quite a site, especially for the uninitiated like me. A huge rack of Moose antlers adorned one of the exterior walls and, to keep bears out, an “unwelcome mat” of upward pointing nails was placed in front of the door. The windows were covered with steel bars. Inside, there was another, even larger, rack of antlers, a dining area and a bedroom with bunks. The table, counters, chairs, walls, beds and floor were littered with everything you could conceivably need to have a comfortable, safe and successful hunt. I think this is when I fully realized just how far out of my comfort zone I had wandered. Not only do I know relatively little about rifles and hunting, but I’m not terribly technically-minded. Here I was immersed in a world of outdoor motors, batteries of all kinds, chargers, generators, gun paraphernalia, walkie-talkies, satellite phones, GPSs and esoteric talk of hunting techniques. What was most intimidating, however, was having to quickly familiarize myself with hunt camp rituals and do’s and don’ts dating back 30 years – and all of this in French. To add another twist, it was the first time a third person had joined Raynald and Claude on the hunt. And not just any third person, but an Anglais who’s not a hunter! I had set myself up to feel, well, kind of dumb.

Raynald with head of bull shot in 2012 (photo by Claude Moisan)

Raynald with head of bull Moose shot in 2012 (photo by Claude Moisan)

There was also a moral dilemma that I had not yet addressed. Raynald explained to me that we would each be hunting separately and that there was every possibility that I might encounter a Moose on my own. I was therefore provided with a gun. What would I do? Would I shoot and probably feel guilty about having killed such a majestic animal? But, the implications of not shooting were grave, as well. The last thing these guys wanted was for me to come waltzing in the door at the end of the day to show them some beautiful Moose photos. Yes, this was serious business and I was expected to do my part in assuring a successful hunt. To be continued 

Nov 052013

The news for moose is not good across the country’s northern tier and in some parts of Canada. A recent and rapid decline of moose populations in many states may be linked to climate change, and to the parasites that benefit from it.

In Minnesota, moose populations from a high of more than 12,000 two decades ago to fewer than 3,000 now. Moose in some parts of Manitoba have declined by 50 percent and more.

source: National Public Radio

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