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Friday, March 20, 2015 at 8:50 am

Despite a shortage of open water, geese are winging their way north

post by JIM NIGRO in Canada geese, nature, outdoors

They seem to have delayed their migaration as long as possible. Now, their biological clocks ticking, large flocks of Canada geese have begun to return  to their breeding grounds - even if the weather isn't fully cooperating. The problem? Presently there is  little open water to accommodate the thousands that have already arrived.

With a shortage of open water there's bound to be an occassional squabble.

Bottoms up!  The water is shallow enough for the Canada's to dabble for remnants of last autumn's corn.

Geese aren't the only waterfowl in search of open water. Note the barely visible Redhead in front of the Tundra swan.

Unlike the migratory species, whitetails have had to endure a long, hard winter. Until recently these cornstalk remains were buried beneath a thick snowpack. For deer, foraging for meals the past couple of months was a lot of work. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 at 10:50 am

Frankie's RocknGirl: a standardbred foal who went toe to toe with Old Man Winter

post by JIM NIGRO in outdoors

Life for Frankie's RocknGirl began on a frigid, if not inauspicious note. She made her entrance into the world at the Goodwin Farm in Byron in the wee hours of February 28th, the last day of what was the coldest month on record in Western New York. The air temperature outside the barn was 1 degree Fahrenheit. But no problem there -- within the hour the newborn filly was standing alongside her mom, Azorean Sky.

In addition to the foal's mom, there was plenty more TLC support despite the early hour. Keith and Karen Goodwin, owners and operators of Goodwin Farm, were there to make things as comfortable as possible for both mom and her foal. Besides a thick matting of fresh straw in her stall, Keith Goodwin had placed a space heater nearby to combat the frigid night air.

Batavian Shelley Falitico arrived shortly after the newborn's arrival. She and her husband, Paul, are the owners of Azorean Sky, a 6-year-old standardbred broodmare who once held her own on the racetrack.

"Sky" had a successful year as a 3 year old," she said. "The reason we decided to breed her was because of her lineage. Her father was named Horse of the Year in 2005 by the Harness Writers Associaton."

Shelley was referring to Azorean Sky's sire, RocknRoll Hanover, who was also named Pacer of the Year and 3-Year-Old Colt Pacer of the Year. Among his 12 wins that year were the Meadowlands Pace, the Breeders Crown and the North America Cup, making him only the second horse to sweep all three of those prestigious races. He was a powerhouse that year, most notably in the Meadowlands Pace when he covered the mile in a blistering 1:48.3.

Though they've been involved with standardbred horse racing for a number of years, this is the first time the Faliticos have bred one of their horses. And rather than go the route of the professional horse breeder, they opted for the "home bred" method of fertility.

Since they have boarded all of their standardbreds at the Goodwin Farm, the Faliticos spoke about their plans with Keith and Karen Goodwin who have a combined 75-plus years in standardbred horse care.

"They have been completely on board with us and have provided outstanding care," Shelley said. "So when we decided to breed 'Sky' I researched New York State stallions eligible for breeding last year and 'hypo-matched' to see what would be a good breeding match for her."

A couple of potentially good matches caught her eye and she and Paul selected Village Jove who was standing at Winbak Farms.

She added, "By breeding Sky with Village Jove, the foal would be eligible for Sires Stakes when she made it to the race circuit." 

(Above, "Frankie" seems to have discovered her shadow.)

Shelley Falitico's own father, the late Frankie Scanlon, has already figured prominently in the foal's life. The foal is obviously his namesake and the sire, Village Jove, was chosen not only for his blood line, but because he and Shelley's dad shared the same birthday.

A rather sad twist to this story is the fact that both sires involved, RocknRoll Hanover and Village Jove, passed away unexpectedly in recent years, 2013 and 2014, respectively. This makes Frankie's RocknGirl a unique kind of filly, one whose mold has been broken. 

So what does the future hold for this standardbred filly? Well, for starters they already have a trainer lined up. Jim Mulcahy has trained the Faliticos' horses for the past nine years and will continue in that capacity.

"He's the reason we got into harness horse ownership," Shelley concluded.

While it's way too early to predict what's in store for Frankie's RocknGirl, aren't hopes and dreams what help to make life bearable? Then too, there is her lineage, such magnificent blood lines going back decades to the likes of Most Happy Fella and Meadow Skipper. More than that, I can't help pondering the fact that she came into the world on a night befitting neither man nor beast. That being said, I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, she's going to be a hardy sort, a filly with a whole lot of heart -- a filly who can give the boys a run for their money.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Hawley, Ranzenhofer introduce bill to allow big game hunting with rifles in Genesee County

post by Howard B. Owens in Mike Ranzenhofer, outdoors, steve hawley

Press release:

State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley have introduced special legislation, S.1292/A.4367, in the New York State Legislature to allow the use of rifles for big game hunting in Genesee County.

“In several areas of New York State, sportsmen are allowed to hunt deer with rifles and this change in law would allow the use of rifles in Genesee County,” Ranzenhofer said. “As the this year’s session progresses, Assemblyman Hawley and I will be working together to get this bill signed into law.”

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley is sponsoring the bill in the State Assembly.

“Hunting is very popular in Western New York, and this legislation is being requested on behalf of the Genesee County Legislature. I am pleased to address concerns of local governing bodies from my district and will work with members of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee to bring this bill to the floor for a vote,” Hawley said.

Last fall, the Genesee County Legislature and the Genesee County Federation of Sportsman Club requested the special legislation to be introduced at the beginning of the 2015 Legislative Session.

Existing environmental conservation law only authorizes the use of pistols, shotguns, crossbows, muzzle-loading firearms or long bows when hunting deer from the first Saturday after Nov. 15 through the first Sunday after Dec. 7.

The bill has been referred to the Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation in the Senate. If enacted into law, the bill would take effect immediately.

Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm

County shares further details on plan for bow hunting in park

post by Howard B. Owens in Genesee County Park, hunting, outdoors

Questions were answered and misconceptions cleared during a meeting in Bethany Wednesday night on a proposal to allow deer hunting during bow season in Genessee County Park, said Parks Supervisor Paul Osborn.

The proposal, which must be approved by the County Legislature, is designed to help thin the deer population in the park, which has grown to nuisance levels as deer are destroying park vegetation and preventing new trees from getting established.

About 60 people attended the meeting.

A few people expressed concerns that were based on misconceptions, Osborn said, such as hunters being able to use guns (they can't) and the potential conflicts with non-hunting users of the park.

The hunters will be confined to 12 zones along the southern border of the park, according to the presentation given to the audience. While the hiking trails will be open, hunters are being told to stay clear of trails and be courteous of others using the park.

No trees will be removed or trimmed nor are hunters allowed to engage in clearing to create shooting lanes. The prohibition is good for conservation, but will limit the distance an arrow can travel, requiring hunters to get closer to their targets and take better shots.

"Our goal is to grow trees, not to cut them down just so we an hunt deer," Osborn said. "Our goal is to grow trees so people can enjoy them."

Hunters will be selected through a lottery Sept. 15, following a Sept. 11 deadline for applications, which open Aug. 17.

Two zones will be set aside for youth and disabled veterans, and young hunters and disabled veterans will be given priority over hunters from outside Genesee County.

In all, 48 hunters will be selected to receive permits for the four-week season, which runs from Oct. 19 through Nov. 15.

There is a mandatory informational class Oct. 3, which is where the permits will be distributed to the 48 winners upon payment of a $25 fee.

Each winning hunter will be granted permission to hunt in a single zone for a single week.

The first deer taken must be anterless. The second deer can be either a legal deer with antlers or anterless, and hunters are encouraged to take only anterless deer. 

If the hunter takes two deer before the end of his or her week-long permit expires, the zone will be vacant for the remainder of that week.

Permits are non-transferable. While a hunter may be accompanied by one guest, the guest is not allowed to hunt at any time.

Hunting will be limited from sunrise to noon each day. 

Hunters will be required to park in the designated parking lot and walk to their respective zones.

The plan is subject to modification until approved by the Legislature.

One modification, suggested by a person at yesterday's meeting, is that hunters entering the park be required to sign in and sign out when they leave.

Osborn said that idea was well received. It will help ensure hunters safely exit the park.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 10:10 am

Wintering songbirds thrive despite the cold

post by JIM NIGRO in nature, outdoors, songbirds

Thanks in large part to a constantly filled bird feeder, the Winter of 2015 has seen an abundance of feathered visitors in and around our yard. This cardinal waits on a snow-covered spruce bough between feeding forays.

The smaller birds, like this junco, begin to arrive at first light -- not at sunrise mind you -- but when the first hint of gray light begins to permeate the darkness.   

The blue jays arrive a bit later. After a pit stop in the apple tree to make sure the coast is clear, they will flit back and forth between the tree and the bird feeder....

as does this cardinal.

A trusting sort, the chickadee will occassionaly take seed from your hand.

Not so with the tufted titmouse....it flits about rapidly; It's been difficult to take its picture.

A blue jay in the "crow's nest" of the apple tree. The apple tree is the closest bit of cover to the bird feeder. There are small brambles and thickets just inside the small woods, but the apple tree is usually where all of our "guests" bide their time while waiting a turn at the bird feeder.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 10:33 am

The red-bellied woodpecker expands its feeding grounds

post by JIM NIGRO in nature, outdoors, red-bellied woodpecker

There was a time when the red-bellied woodpeckers never ventured into our yard, instead choosing to scour the bark of the big cottonwood, as seen here, or sidling along the branches of the box elders and walnut trees along the edge of the adjacent woodlot.

In the hardwoods the red-bellied woodpecker was something of a loner, but he doesn't mind sharing space at the bird feeder.

Often mistaken for a red-headed woodpecker, the red-orange streak on its abdomen indicates how the red-belly got its name.

A bluejay joins the red belly for a suet feast. No doubt attracted by the slabs of suet we've put out in recent winters, the red-bellied woodpecker has become a freqent visitor to the bird feeder.

While it may not qualify as a "blue moon occurrance," I haven't seen a red belly in the apple tree until this day. Being in close proximity to the bird feeder, the apple tree provides thick cover and protection from winged predators.

Friday, December 26, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Photo: A snowy owl

post by Howard B. Owens in animals, batavia, birds, Genesee County Airport, outdoors

Here's one of the snowy owls out at the airport in a photo by Dylan Brew, of Schoen Productions.

Thursday, December 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Photos: Local bird watching

post by Howard B. Owens in nature, outdoors

Dylan Brew, of Schoen Productions, shared these photos he took of some feather-covered visitors he had today.

He identified them (though I'm not sure I'm posting them in the right order) as: Carolina wren, white-throated sparrow, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Creature comforts: enjoying the warm weather respite

Long migratory flights have been put on hold in recent days. Here a drake and hen mallard take advantage of the open water on "celery brook" to do some dabbling.

Downstream from the River Street bridge, a pair of Canada geese appear to be feeling their oats.

Framed by phragmite plumes, these Canadas enjoy the open water of the "sandwash." 

The placid surface of a local pond creates a mirror image of this lone cormorant.

Even domesticated critters are taking advantage of the warm weather -- apparently in this case the grass is greener on the other side!

What are the chances strains of Silent Night will permeate this little valley in Middlebury tonight?

Wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas!!!! 

Monday, December 8, 2014 at 11:35 am

The Day the Duck Hunters Died: a look back at waterfowling's darkest hour

It was a time when much of the country was still feeling the effects from the Great Depression. In rural America the contents of a hunter's game bag greatly helped add to the family larder. Water fowl bag limits were quite liberal at the time and shotgun shells nowhere near as costly as they would become. A box of birdshot cost $1.25 -- a mere farthing by today's standards.

According to the Minnesota Public Radio archives, the autumn of 1940 was unseasonably warm throughout the state. The area had experienced a real Indian Summer during October that year and November began much the same way. Because warm autumns aren't conducive to great duck hunting, the wing shooting hadn't been much to write home about -- at least not until this day.

The morning of November 11th dawned sunny with the thermometer reading 50 degrees -- almost balmy for Northern Minnesota so late in the year. The temperature would climb to near 60 degrees. For outdoorsmen it was practically shirtsleeve weather. A good number of sportsmen heading out to the backwaters of the Mississippi where it flows past Winona were dressed accordingly -- nothing more than a canvas hunting jacket over a light shirt. 

In addition to the sloughs and backwaters of the upper Mississipi watershed, the river is dotted with a maze of islands where it flows past Winona, making the area ideal habitat for duck blinds. And this is where a good number of duck hunters headed that November day. 

By early afternoon the sky clouded over and a wind came up. It was a light wind at first and with it came the rain -- prime conditions for hunting ducks. The temperature began to drop and sure enough, the ducks began arriving in good numbers. Big flocks numbering in the hundreds at first, but before long the ducks were funneling into the backwaters of the upper Mississippi by the thousands. After a while the rain turned to sleet and still the ducks poured into the sloughs and backwaters. The sky was black with ducks and a few geese mixed in as myriad waterfowl all across the upper Mississippi flyway were silhouetted against gray storm clouds.

What appeared to be dream conditions for the duck hunters was really an omen, a forebode warning. In their zeal the gunners totally misread Mother Nature's danger signal. The ducks, countless thousands of them, were seeking shelter from an imminent storm. The hunters, meanwhile, merely thought it their good fortune to be afield for a waterfowl movement such as was taking place before their very eyes. They had no clue what was bearing down on them.

Predicting the weather in those years was not the science it would one day become. If those early meteorologists had at their disposal the sophisticated weather-predicting equipment of today, they would have known a strong storm that had originated in the Pacific Northwest had barreled across the Rocky Mountains and, instead of weakening after crossing the Continental Divide as is usually the case, it tapped into an intense low-pressure system carrying plenty of rain from the Gulf of Mexico before colliding with a frigid arctic air mass from Canada. A recipe for a weather disaster was in the making.

As the temperature continued to drop, the sleet turned into snow and what had become a stiff wind began increasing in instensity, growing ever stronger. Still, the waterfowl kept coming, providing the gunners hunkered down in the cattail-lined sloughs the duck hunt of a lifetime. The bag limit at that time consisted of 10 ducks and for those who had yet to fill their quota, with so many birds on the wing, it appeared to be just a matter of time before doing so. Thus, in the excitement of the hunt, shotguns continued to boom throughout the backwaters of the upper Mississippi.

"THE WINDS OF HELL"

The time eventually came when those who had refused to abandon their duck blinds earlier would have to pay the consequences one way or another. Mother Nature was about to unleash her fury.

The wind continued to strengthen and the hunters who had yet to leave, those still in the elements, knew they had made a dire mistake. For the hunters on the river islands, blinding snow and 70-mph winds made getting back to shore next to impossible. While a scant few somehow managed to get back to shore, for most it was an exercise in futility. Without outboard motors, wooden rowboats and skiffs were no match for the whitecaps and five-foot waves that stood between them and safety. It would prove to be at best a harrowing ordeal for those stranded anywhere among that maze of islands.

By nightfall the temperature had plummeted to 2 degrees but hurricane-force winds created a windchill of minus 55. In desperation, boats, decoys and duck blinds were burned in an attempt to provide warmth. Some repeatedly walked in circles to keep their blood flowing, others struck themselves over and over, pounding themselves in the arms and torso to keep the circulation moving.

What awaited rescue personnel the next day were a series of grim, surreal scenes. Throughout the region hunters were found lying prone, some beneath their duck boats, others covered by the drifting snow. One man was found standing in waist deep water -- he was frozen solid, his arms still clinging to a tree. Raging winds had driven the river up and over what little dry land, if any, was to be found on that particular spit of land.

One teen survived only because the family's two black labs had nestled on either side of him and remained that way throughout the night. The boy's brother, father and uncle weren't so fortunate. While many froze to death, others drowned in their attempt to cross the river sloughs in low-slung duck boats that were no match for five-foot waves and 70-mph winds.

The deadly storm ravaged parts of three states and was the reason for a head-on collision between a freight train and a passenger train loaded with duck hunters. Unable to see in the white-out conditions, the passenger train's crew missed a trackside signal. On Lake Michigan three freighters and two smaller boats sank, claiming 66 lives. All told, the storm was responsible for 160 deaths. Of that total, nearly 50 of them duck hunters, the majority perished in the upper Mississippi watershed near Winona.

The cataclysmic weather phenomena which struck the Upper Midwest on Nov. 11th, 1940, has since been labeled in many ways. For some it was the Armistice Day Blizzard, others called it the Storm of the Century. One newspaper's headlines referred to it as The Winds of Hell.

However that tragic event is recalled, in the annals of waterfowling and for the family and friends of those who perished, it will no doubt be remembered as The Day the Duck Hunters Died.

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