Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sugar Time

Its that time of year again...when the temperatures begin to slowly rise, and we're teased by alternating days of clear skies and 40+ degrees (Fahrenheit) and gray skies and snow showers.  Mid-February and early March are difficult times for those of us so desperately looking forward to spring.

But around here, we've got enough to keep our minds and bodies busy until spring fully breaks.  Around here we call it sugaring season.

Sugaring season begins very soon.  In fact this coming weekend we'll begin tapping the first set of maple trees to harvest the clear, slightly sweet sap for maple syrup production.  We don't make a lot of syrup (only 4-5 gallons per year), but its certainly enough to keep us busy.

Check out this post from last February for information about the process of making maple syrup.  If you're interested in a little bit of coaching, consider joining us on Feb 26 at 1pm for an introduction to maple sugaring we call "Tapping the Sugarbush".  We'll also be hosting a few maple sugaring demonstrations through the first two weeks of March - check out our calendar of events on our website for dates and times.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2010 Deer Management Summary

The 2010 NY state regular deer season in Westchester County ran from Oct 16-Dec 31. During this time, Westmoreland Sanctuary’s Deer Management Program (DMP) registered 16 individual hunters to harvest deer on the public and Wildlife Management portions of the Sanctuary. In 2009, 10 hunters participated on the public portion only on a limited trial basis.


The 2010 DMP was amended using some of the recommendations in the 2009 DMP summary and insight from other deer management programs, as well as input from our volunteer hunters and visitors. As a result, the Sanctuary was organized into “Management” zones and “No Hunting” zones. Visitation was permitted at all times during the deer management season, as opposed to the 2009 season in which we closed the Sanctuary for deer management activities. This plan was well received by both our volunteer hunters and the vast majority of visitors. Other major amendments are listed further in this report.

EFFORT
Hunting took place on a total of 52 days, which is thirty more days than during the 2009 season. The hours of effort of all individual hunters totaled 1126.5 hours over the 2010 season. This is a dramatic increase over the 267.75 hours accumulated during the 2009 season. A few reasons for this year’s increase in days hunted and total hours include:

1. Early organization and preparation of the 2010 DMP in advance of the NYS deer season opening date
2. Increased hunter access to the property during all days of the week
3. Increased hunter access by other points of entry to the property
4. Ability for hunters to participate as individuals as opposed to hunting as a group – increased flexibility within each hunter’s work/family schedule

The cumulative effort of individual hunters varied across a broad scale. The average hours of effort per hunter this season was about 70.5 hours. One hunter put in a total of nearly 179 hours over the course of the season, while another only contributed 8.75 hours of effort. A total of 7 (out of 16) hunters put in more hours of effort over the course of the season than the group average. The effort of individual hunters was not analyzed for the 2009 season.

The average daily effort by each hunter was 4.75 hours per day hunted. This is a slight increase from the 2009 average of 4.09 hours per day hunted. The maximum effort given in a single day by an individual hunter was 12.5 hours, which occurred on 5 occasions. The minimum effort given in a single day was 2 hours. Daily hours of effort generally decreased as the season progressed into December.

HARVEST RESULTS
The average number of deer observed by each hunter on each visit was 2.43, with a maximum of 14 deer observed on one occasion. The total number of deer harvested for the season (Oct 16-Dec 31) was 9, comprising 7 male and 2 female. Additionally, 2 deer (both does) were injured but not recovered this season. Hunting hours logged per deer harvested equals 125 hours, which is a slight decrease from 2009’s 133.88 hours per deer harvested. Unfortunately, this means it takes approximately 26 visits from our pool of hunters to harvest one deer.

Example: If each hunter hunts for the average of 4.75 hours a day, it would take 6.5 visits by any combination of 4 hunters to harvest one deer of either sex.

While the above analysis reflects the combined effort of the hunter pool, it is not a reflection of individual hunter effort or success. The five hunters who harvested one deer each this season recorded 179, 133, 75, 66, and 45 total hours, respectively. The one hunter who harvested a total of 4 deer accumulated only 88 total hours over the course of the season. That’s an average of 21.8 hours of effort per deer or one deer harvested every 4.5 visits by this hunter (based on the average daily effort of 4.75 hours per day).

Additional wildlife observations from the 2010 DMP were documented. In addition to the usual squirrels, chipmunks, turkey and the occasional Red-tailed hawk were sightings of Bobcat, Black bear, Coyote, Red fox, and Barred owl. The fox were seen on two occasions; all others were recorded only once during the season.

Coyote

Wild Turkey
DISCUSSION
2010 marked the first full season of deer management throughout the Westmoreland Sanctuary property. Additional hunter recruitment, increased access to the Sanctuary, and earlier preparation for the deer hunting season by the Sanctuary staff (updated DMP, neighborhood letter, signage, etc) contributed greatly to the increased level of effort by the hunter volunteers as compared to the 2009 trial season.

Despite the 4 fold increase in effort and more access to the Sanctuary property, the ratio of hours per deer harvested was essentially the same. On the bright side, four times the effort still yielded four times as many deer harvested (2 deer in 2009 vs. 9 deer in 2010). Moving forward, Sanctuary staff and hunter focus should be placed on increasing deer harvest independent of hunter effort to achieve management goals of a more ecologically sustainable deer herd.

Considerations for the 2011 DMP may include:
1. Additional hunters willing to put in hours throughout the entirety of the deer management season
2. Encouraging the existing pool of hunters to visit and scout the Sanctuary during the spring and summer months prior to the deer management season
3. Instituting hunter report cards to track the efforts of individual hunters and their commitment to the management program
4. Encouraging hunters to focus on and successfully harvest does (not bucks) to more effectively manage the sanctuary's deer herd
5. Require more diligence in reporting daily observation and harvest logs

Additional considerations will be forthcoming as the staff meets periodically with the hunter volunteers in advance of drafting the 2011 DMP.

In the coming months, the sanctuary staff will be conducting surveys to more accurately determine the approximate deer density, sex ratio (male : female), and recruitment ratio (births & immigration : deaths & emmigration) on the sanctuary property through a series of camera trap surveys.

For more information about our area's deer management issues please see the following resources:
1. Westchester Citizen's Task Force on White-tailed Deer and Forest Regeneration
2. Westchester County 2009 Pilot Adaptive Deer Management Program Report
3. White-tailed Deer in Greenburgh, Westchester County, NY
4. Managing White-tailed Deer in Forest Habitat From an Ecosystem Perspective

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hudson Valley's Wintering Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle photographed at the New Croton Dam during EagleFest 2010
This winter we have received a number of phone calls in the office regarding Bald Eagles.  Typically the conversation begins with the caller describing a large bird that they're certain was an eagle.  Eventually they ask, "Is it possible to see eagles around here?"  And often to their surprise, our answer is, "Yes!"

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was once threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states due to DDT poisoning.  Protection provided by the Endangered Species Act and reintroduction efforts eventually resulted in the species' removal from the endangered species list.  In NY, the DEC documented 173 breeding pairs of Bald Eagles across the state in 2010.  139 of these pairs successfully fledged a total of 244 young eagles.  This is a result that very few could have foreseen in 1976 when the NYSDEC began its Bald Eagle Restoration Project.

Today's wintering Bald Eagle numbers in the Hudson Valley continue to climb as well.  Each winter dozens of our nation's symbol spend the winter in the vicinity of the lower Hudson Valley.  Monitoring of the roosting locations of these birds in Westchester County by the Bedford Audubon Society (BAS) has shown consistent increases in winter eagle numbers.  During the 2009 survey period, BAS volunteers documented a peak abundance of 139 eagles within the study area.  Compare that to the 2008 peak abundance of 84 eagles and that's an increase of 65%!  BAS is currently conducting surveys this winter at various locations along the Hudson River and New Croton Reservoir.  If you're interested in participating, you can contact Tait Johansson, BAS naturalist, at tjohansson@bedfordaudubon.org.

If you would like to view eagles at your leisure this winter, there are a couple of very good locations to do so. The Google Map below shows just a few of the best locations to view eagles in our area during the winter months.  Click on the map locations for a description of the area and what/where to look.  Use the Google options to get directions to these areas from your location.
View Eagle Viewing Locations in a larger map

The best time to view eagles in peak activity are morning hours (7-9am) and late afternoon hours (4-5pm), but you're likely to see eagles at these locations at any time of the day with just a very short visit.  If I had to pick one location to send you to, I would go to George's Island.  I've had great views of both adult and immature eagles each time I've visited this winter.  There are usually a number of other bird species (various duck species, Common mergansers, Mute swans, etc) to view in that location as well.

So I hope you'll take a short trip to the Hudson River to view an eagle or two this winter.  But don't wait too long!  These birds will only be around in such large concentrations through the end of February.  Seize the opportunity now and you'll certainly be rewarded.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist