Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Four Subspecies of the Common Eider in North America

The Hudson Bay Eider, note the band on it's leg...

Note: The new Downeast Duck Hunter site is over HERE...

Due to my proximity in Downeast Maine, I figure that almost 100% of my duck hunting takes place on the Atlantic Ocean. Within my bag exists the likes of the bufflehead, common goldeneye, old squaw, lesser scaup, merganser, butter bill scoter, surf scoter, white-winged scoter, mallard, black duck, and several other species. However, the duck that exists within my upmost passion for hunting is the common eider (somateria mollissima) and I have spent my entire life improving my practice to pursue these fantastic creatures. Recently, I have put a greater emphasis on understanding the common eider and exploring the science behind these interesting ducks. Since several of my high school students are very interested in duck hunting, I find myself explaining so much about my world and sometimes wondering if I could have answered their query better.

My education about the Northern eider came from a friend, Richard DiBiase, who guides in the Penobscot Bay region. Rich spoke of this Northern eider that would be brought in by the harsh Canadian winter. Before he could get a crack at them, they would have to get past me. I had always thought that all eiders were the same and now was constantly wondering about this Northern Eider. Before I knew it, I was reading and researching about the variety of common eider subspecies. Eventually, one of my students suggested that I write a research paper about my findings. I agreed and this is what I would like to share.

loral line- the black strip or line on an eider that begins just below the nostril and runs along the bill towards the black cap on top of the eiders head

lobes- part of the eider bill that separates towards the eye of the eider, varies in shape from subspecies to subspecies

Pacific Common Eider (somateria mollissima v-nigra)

Photo by Rene Pop

Range- Northwest Canada, Arctic Ocean, Alaska, Bering Strait, Russia, south to the Aleutian Islands

Notice the thickness of the black loral line running up the bill into the curved black cap

The largest and most brilliant of the common eiders, the Pacific common eider displays a vivid yellow orange bill that is defined by short, fine, pointed frontal lobes. It has a longer head with the greatest distance from the eye to the nostril of all common eiders. The Pacific Eider's bill has a fairly thick black loral line that extends to a deep curved black cap as the black emerges from the bill (loral line). In addition, the Pacific eider drake has a distinct black V on the chin unlike the other common eider races. Some have suggested that the head of the Pacific eider doesn't seem quite balanced.

The black V under the chin is unique to the Pacific Eider
Photo by Bruce MacTavish

Of particular note, this duck is the second most coveted in Alaskan waterfowl as it's cousin, the king eider, takes the top spot on the duck hunters list.

Hudson Bay Common Eider (Somateria mollissima sedentaria)

Range- Hudson and James Bay, Northern Canada (tundra region)

Named Mitia by the Inuit, the Hudson Bay eider is subject to a most demanding climate in the tundra region of Canada. Bred entirely in Hudson Bay, this subspecies is rarely acknowledged elsewhere but would be considered as an American eider if seen. They winter in a few isolated locations as they congregate in the ice free waters of Hudson Bay.

Because of the extreme climate and limited avenues for escape, these eiders continually live along the edge of the ice pack in order to access the water to feed. In addition, the Hudson Bay eider practices a survival tactic titled pullait. The Hudson Bay eider winters near areas of open water surrounded by sea ice called polynyas. In these small open areas, groups of eiders congregate and dive frequently for any available food. Due to the shear number of eiders, exhaled air meets the salt-water thin ice that rises to make a shallow dome. This naturally created shelter then exists for the eider to maintain their feeding patterns in these polynyas, which are rich in feed for all types of the food chain. Hudson Bay eider have become so reliant on polynyas for winter food they don't know how to migrate. Actually the scientific name sedentaria refers to the act of being sedentary or not moving around.

Arctic polynyas with Hudson Bay Eiders on the ice edge

However, there also exists a troubling act of nature by the ever-forming ice where Hudson Bay eiders become entrapped and perish. As the ice pack continues to form, the available areas for feeding become less prevalent. With limited access, areas become more crowded, the eiders create their own ice walls from frequent splashing. As this continues, the eiders become more desperate to escape and can not fly out of the hole. This then leads itself to several types of mortality. The eiders become easy prey, some drown, starve, or freeze as the hole continues to close. Most of these victims are immature eiders who haven't fled for safer waters. In some severely cold winters, there have been stories of thousands of eiders who have perished because of this phenomenon.

Through my research, I found a most interesting eider website produced by Joel Heath who seriously looks into the world of the Hudson Bay eider. His work is most amazing and I'm thankful for his dedication. I implore you to check out his site.
Surviving the Arctic Winter Research Site

If you want to see his movie trailer about his work, check this out
Trailer for Eider: Winter Survivor

American Eider (Somateria mollissima dresseri)

Notice how thin the black loral line is running up the side of the bill and the flatness of the the black cap against the white head
Photo by Bill Thompson

Range- Newfoundland, Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northeastern United States

Identified by the slight protrusion of it's white sails contouring the white back, the American eider has a bill that varies in color from grey to olive to bright orange. The profile of the bill possesses large, broad, rounded frontal lobes that extend closer to the eye and it's head offers a more extensive translucent green extending along the lower back of the black cap. The black strip (loral line) between the white and the frontal lobe is the thinnest amongst of the eider subspecies.

Notice the profile of the bill and the rounded frontal lobes by the eye

Maine supports part of the Atlantic population of common eiders and is the only major eider breeding contiguous state with an abundance of uninhabited smaller islands.

The two main focus points I have chosen for this subspecies were the challenges of decreasing numbers over time and the feeding patterns to which I can relate to an article I published on Duck Hunting Chat.

During the 1800's and early 1900's, the American eider numbers decreased throughout coastal Maine for a variety of reasons. Offshore islands were becoming occupied by people for fishing and farming purposes. This human disturbance affected the eider's ability to breed and also increased gull predation as nest desertion became more prominent. Egg collecting and hunting without regulations also caused a significant decline. Eider down, famous for it's insulating properties, was in high demand for featherbeds and pillows. With the advent of hunting regulations and the abandonment of many coastal islands as some of the fishing industries declined in participation, the Maine eider population did in fact increase.

Factors such as avian predation, starvation, drowning, and human disturbance all tend to act interdependently to challenge the survival possibilities of the young ducklings. Organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and other societies have put forth much effort to ensure that breeding habit remains free of development.

The feeding patterns of the eider are quite unique in that the majority of their dietary intake consists of animal matter. Primarily feeding on marine invertebrates, the eider will dive up to depths of 40 feet searching for blue mussels, sea urchins, periwinkles, and green crabs. Of notice, it has been determined that these ducks present a habitual feeding pattern coinciding with tidal level at mean low water. This is when the eiders can more easily pursue the above listed marine species.

For a video by Joel Heath showing a feeding eider click below
Eider Diving for Feed

Northern Eider (Somateria mollissima borealis)

Photo by Dick Newell

Notice how the lobes of the Northern eider aren't as rounded as the American Eider
Photo by Killian Mullarney

Notice the sails on the Northern Eider's back
Photo by Paul Kelly

Through my research, this subspecies provided the least information. However, it is quite apparent that one must take time to conisider the physical attributes to distinguish this arctic species against it's cousins southward.

The bill of the Northern Eider which frequents Maine in the late winter tends to exhibit a bright yellow orange bill base as evident of the Greenland and Northeastern Canadian residents.

From experience, these northern eiders are larger than their American cousins and sport a more fantastically brighter bill (a more vibrant yellow) with a less pronounced frontal lobe. The American eider has a much more rounded feature where the bill separates at the wedge of the black cap. In addition to the differences of the bill and size, the sails of the Northern eider are more apparent as the scapulars tend to be more exposed at rest as opposed to a more reserved appearance from the American eider. Finally, the loral line is thicker than the American eider (where the black begins by the nostril) and the black cap that exists on all subspecies of eider is relatively straight and uniform from the perspective of the Norther eider.

In reflection

Throughout the remainder of my eider hunting career, I'll be sure to look for any interesting encounters. I'm sure of my taking of the American and Northern eider, but will be curious if either a Pacific or Hudson Bay eider find their way Downeast. However, when I do, the research and time taken will prove quite beneficial for proper identification.

Special Recognition:
Eiders in Ireland- Rare forms worth finding
Martin Garner & Wilton Farrelly

Habitat Suitability Index Model: Americian Eider (Breeding) Biological Report 2/1988
Arlene K. Blumton
Ray B. Owen, Jr.
William B. Krohn

Eider Duck Underwater Video
Joel Heath, 2002

Martin Garner
Dick Newell
Paul Kelly
Killian Mullarney
Rene Pop
Bruce MacTavish

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm not in college anymore, why am I doing this???

This is going to sound so lame, but I'm writing a paper on the common eider. That's right the duck I love to hunt more than anything now has brought me to the wonderful world of research and writing. You may ask why and to be honest, I'm not really sure. All I know is that since I've finished my masters degree, I'm still looking for reasons to keep improving henceforth the notion of life-long learning. For an update of this paper that will be submitted soon, I have focused on some of the aspects of the common eider that are new to me and worth discussing. Here's one did you know??????? Within the the group common eider, somateria mollissima, there exists at least 4 sub-species, potentially 5 in North America... That's right, there are up to five different versions of the same common eider and it gets more complex as you include Europe...

In addition, there will be another Rabid Outdoorsman/Downeast Duck Hunter face off slated for the 7th and 8th of November. However, this one will be in Downeast Maine and will take us down to duck camp... This should be quite a story for our hunting club, Duckpower, will be in full attendance for the two day hunt...

Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trick or Treat... Smell My Feet...

I've never been so inspired, yes we can!!!

I'm not a giant, Mahoney's grammie is pretty short...

When put together, we make electricity...

A witch, nurse, keg of Natural Light, and ???

This weekend, my wife and I attended the Mahoney's Halloween party. Mahoney has been my best friend for over ten years now and stood up with me as my best man in 2003. In an agreement with Mahoney's wife, we would attend the party and Mahoney could sneak down for a quick hunt (see Matt and Mahoney, It's kinda of hard being Snoop D-O- Double G).
In retrospect, the three hour drive was well rewarded with an excellent attendance and great costumes.

Personal highlights for me were winning best costume, learning a few extra defensive mechanisms, and meeting my idol- Senator Barack Obama. I asked him questions about gun control, taxes, and the true intent of the far left agenda. I was very pleased as our pleasant discussion yielded the catch phrases change, hope, believe, spread the wealth, and common sense gun control. All jokes aside, I had an absolute great time and would like to thank all who helped salvage my bad day hunting. And I would love to give a special shout out to Mahoney's grandmother, that typical white person, who told me it was okay to cling to my guns and bible. Thanks Grammie!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When life gives you a little lemon...

Two of my tenders...

Dad's decoys over my bow...

My father at 8:37...
The one that would have been the best is a little out of focus.

So there I was stewing for a bit waiting for the tide to get a little higher so I could haul my tender above peak and thought maybe I could get my outboard running. When I got to the point, my father's truck was there which led me to believe he was on the same level of thinking as me. His tender was gone and I knew immediately, he's out after those sea ducks. Since I had brought my camera to snap a few photos for my previous entry, I figured if my outboard motor ran I'd go check out how dad was faring.

I hadn't used my 3.3 at all this summer which only reinforces the idea behind "use it or lose it". I had been using my littlest tender (in the picture above) which rows like a rocket. The second being I must have forgotten which way to turn on the fuel on in the dark. The problem with those little Mercury motors is that if you leave the fuel switch on, the fuel will run and flood the carburetor and it will be virtually impossible to get started quickly. And since I have worn the on/off decal away, I couldn't fathom the problem this morning. So my stupidity cost me a hunt. My father did magically fix his outboard also, all it took for him was to put back his emergency pull cord back on his outboard. Nevertheless, I took the time to take a few pictures. Notice some of his ultra magnum eider decoys, that's another blog!!!

When things just won't go right...

The Sunrise at 6:37 a.m.

Well at least my coffee is hot and tasteful, but all other things in my duck hunting world have officially gone bust. Today was supposed to be a day of reckoning. With the advent of junior hunting day, my father and I made the decision to move to a more remote, but closer venue. Rather than use our Alaskan, it became pertinent to utilize our tending crafts for our lobsterboats. Now these specially made boats powered by 3.3 Mercury outboards are very proper for gunning in areas that bring ledges, rocks, shallow spots, and any thing else questionable for larger vessels. However, I have had as many times of difficulty with that outboard as I have had pleasure. And my father on the very same morning got the same poison. Just so you know, legal shooting today was at 6:24 and I'm currently blogging at 6:49 with my thermos at my feet...

Okay, it's been a few days in the works. Matt Diesel elected not to attend this Saturday's hunt for reasons that I'm still trying to figure out and my father didn't want to be interfering with any kids chance of tagging a deer on Junior Hunt Day. So we watched the weather and figured we could gun on the Northwest side of the island amongst some of our neighboring smaller islands. The tide would be half-flood and it would be a great chance to shake up some of the ducks who have been moving in to the mussel beds. We took all 40 of my eider decoys, and other equipment, out of the Lund and loaded up the tenders last night in order to minimize the efforts in the morning. All that we needed this morning was the coffee, apparel, and the firearms. I felt quite encouraged by our plans.

Enter my good friend Murphy, he's a bastard...

We get to our tenders that are on haul offs (for those who don't know, we have an anchor off the shore with rope running through the eye, this ultra big loop then allows us to pull in our boats from shore) and loaded up. It took three pulls of my cord to fire up the little Mercury and I sat there idling waiting for dad to fire up, well he never made it and never did I. His outboard wouldn't start at all and mine wouldn't hold idle. I thought at first it was flooded, so then I put the throttle down and pulled a trillion times, then I'd get it running for three seconds and stall. Meanwhile, my father had his motor torn apart and was losing his dedication to our hunt quickly. So here we were, my father, myself, and that jerk Murphy who seems to show up at any given time when I'm supposed to have fun. My dad threw in the towel, and I rowed back to the shore to unloaded all the gear that I spent over an hour fixing for this morning. Game over...

So here I sit at 7:08 wondering how well things are going for the Rabid Outdoorsman and his dad, actually I know things are going awesome. You see, Murphy found me... What annoys me the most is that all I wanted to do was share in a great morning with my dad... For some reason, it couldn't be and that what bothers me the most... I guess I'll give Rabid a call to see if there is balance in the universe... We did talk about Taoism in World History this week...

The Downeast Duck Hunter

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Matt and Mahoney, it's kinda of hard being Snoop D-O-double G



...............................First Light

Every so often, I manage to get my best man, Mahoney, to sneak down for a visit. We had been discussing the possibility of him getting out with the one they call Matt Diesel and myself for a quick morning blast, and then everyone could go their separate ways. The forecast clearly suggested 15-20 mph winds from the North and this automatically presented a challenge. I thought about where we could best set up to 1) be safe and somewhat out of the wind, 2) encourage sea ducks to address the decoys, and 3) accommodate the tide which would be turning flood around 8 a.m.

I decided to put us in a typical location and alter the presentation of the decoys. Rather than offering a slight crescent running north and south, it became a better idea to cup the dekes a little more and move the spread a little more to the east in order to encourage some fliers to turn into the wind as the ledge would act as a forcing agent. We would set up to the west of the decoys, and would have to settle with fly-bys. Challenging, but workable.

We had already filled one limit of eiders and found ourselves into a little down time. It's still early and the eiders we are currently gunning are residents. I don't expect the migrators until next month as freezing temperatures from Canada are inevitable. As a result of some inaction, Matt and I got messing around with Matt's new Blackberry which had his entire music collection already downloaded. It was at this point Matt decided to showcase his mad rapping skills while Mahoney stood watch for a rogue eider. I apologize for the explicit lyrics, but after you see this you'll appreciate how this whole thing went down. And if you are wondering, it was five...

Matt Diesel and Mahoney in Full Effect!!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Opener with the Rabid Outdoorsman: End game

I don't know what was worse, the grumble in my gut as the coffee started to wear away my stomach lining or the instant rush of caffeine going straight into my system. It didn't matter, Steve may be the Rabid Maine Outdoorsman, but his career in the java world is quite limited. And there Steve was, grinning from ear to ear because the coffee was hot. I didn't want to pour it out for that would have brought the water quality to dangerous and toxic levels. Okay, enough about that, it's hunting time!

We quietly shot the bull and strategized about how we would begin the day, I kept checking the time as we approached legal shooting. Around 5:30, Steve began a series of calls ranging from wood duck “yelps” to dabbling mallards to the teal call. I'm not sure if he was trying to impress me with a quack here, and a quack there, here a quack, there a quack, everywhere a quack, quack, but other ducks did respond. It might have been what they do at that time, Steve could have been doing a great job or he could be taking credit for something that occurs every morning. I don't use duck calls for the most part, other than for black ducks in a winter snowstorm. So let's just say he's a brilliant duck whisperer.

My take: Steve, in his element and calling the shots, myself, eager and excited for a new experience in the wild-fowling world even though I had been poisoned by one of my best friends.

So here is my best recount of the opening minute to our first volley of shotgun blasts...

6:04 Legal Shooting, well at least it was... you couldn't see well, it was overcast, drizzling, and dark... There was no sunrise for that pristine early shot, just dark and dreary, plus the rain kept things just wet enough to fog up the camera and I had nothing to wipe away the condensation... Then we heard the first shots of the new season...

6:16 was when our first flock arrived and I wasn't sure how to approach this, were we to wait until Steve said go, or should I jump up and start firing. In all of our conversations, Steve and I did NOT discuss the first flock. So I waited, as not to bogart the experience. Then here we sat, with at least 8 mallards in the decoys, three lined up for one shot and I say “what do we do?”. Both pointing our shotguns, Steve replied, “Ready?” as I responded, “Yeah”...

“Go first”, he suggested and I fired with Steve quickly rallying behind...

Our quarry from that first flock... zero, how could we have missed those birds I thought, I wasn't sure if we had misjudged the distance, or had drawn down our beads too far, but nevertheless my first volley of fire since mid-December last year had resulted in a fat goose egg...

My take: Steve, wondering, myself wondering why so rusty, ready for the next flock...

From that point on, you could hear shots from all over and watch flocks buzzing all around. The guys on the little island were firing, the dudes to our west were sky-busting and not even coming close, people on an adjacent lake were shooting, and the ducks were consistently on the fly.

We had some questionable circumstances, some ducks were too far but just close enough, I chose not to fire for the most part especially after seeing how well sky-busting works. The teal were dive bombing and darting all over just like fighter jets and the wood ducks descended only to veer another way in complete unison. My bird identification came around a lot faster than I had previously thought, I recognized some mallards directly approaching from the west. They veered south and split behind our stand and the island we were hunting. Then somehow, Steve located a drake greenhead and gave it a chuckle. The mallard flew directly over the southwest decoys and then started to flare as I jumped up. I offered two shots but am sure the first one did the job and the drake spiraled to the water. It felt great, but the drake was not giving up. After two more rounds, the mallard went eastward towards some reeds. Steve chose to leave his labrador retriever behind so he could pursue the persistent duck. Once he was in the general area, I noticed the drake again moving away in the opposite direction. I shouted to Steve, told him to look left, he stood up and quickly dispatched the mallard. Meanwhile, his dog was absolutely going insane in the blind and I tried everything to convince Onyx that her daddy was coming right back. Finally, Steve returned with the mallard that we now had a share in bagging and proudly handed to me and congratulated me with my first freshwater mallard.

My take: Steve, exhausted from the row, exited for me, myself, amped and ready for more! Onyx, happy her owner had finally come back...

For some time, we had some chances, surprises, and misgivings while the rain got progressively worse just like the duck hunting. We were sitting on one duck and I was hoping for at least one more chance. Steve had done so much to show me a good time and one more flock could make this hunt a huge success. Alas, my hopes were met by a golden opportunity as three mallards approached from the northwest and turned towards the decoys to land into the northeast wind. I fired first and dropped the lead bird, while Steve fired upon another. The third lighted into the decoys but suspended itself slowly as if to gain altitude from a wind that suddenly seemed absent. Within a fraction of a second, I broadcast a flurry of Kent Fasteel number two shot at the remaining bird. As with the others, she fell amongst her companions ending a most exciting moment in our day. Steve promptly unleashed his dog for a retrieve and ended up retrieving all three in wonderful fashion. For a second in time, I wished I had a labrador retriever but then returned to reality and appreciated the fact that my dog ownership days will not be until the children grow up. Nevertheless, that 5 minutes of our day seemed as if it belonged on a hunting show, absolutely perfect.

My take: Steve, swelled up like a tom approaching a hen turkey, myself, relieved to see my friends day become in my eyes much better other than showing me a great time

To be honest, our luck went back to tradition as the birds officially discovered that every possible place on that lake might result in their own demise. The ducks were flying high, the sky-busters were still shooting at high fliers just like the Iraqis shooting into the sky at our stealth fighters with no avail, and we actually found ourselves with our newfound success actually relaxing with some dried pollack, taking some pictures, and raving about Onyx's flawless retrieves. And then it happened, one more hen mallard was fast approaching from the southwest and flying straight at the face of our blind. It wasn't like the other ducks, this one was committed worse than a lonely eider finding its way into my eider decoys. She sped towards us without any haste, but then shot up to the sky like a space shuttle in flight to outer space. I offered a shot with little luck, but out of nowhere Steve points to the sky leaning backwards and presents this ridiculous shot at the hen. It was a vertical shot directly above us and it rewarded us with temporary flurry of feathers as I watched the hen drop over us and into the water behind the blind. Amazed, I couldn't even begin to describe how Steve had pulled this one off other than it was 60% skill and 40% luck. Hell, that shot would have been lucky for anybody, but Steve made it happen and I still can't explain how he even got a shot off even after I had taken the best possible shot at the rising mallard.

As I videotaped Onyx retrieving the hen mallard, Steve managed to be in the video qualifying himself as a rock star and for that moment in time, he earned it. What an amazing shot!

My take: Steve, the real life bobble-head swelled up so bad he may never come back to Earth, myself, still laughing to my amazement how he pulled off that shot

After that, we joked about our neighbors the sky-busters and wondered how well they were doing. In the midst of the entire day that had been full of surprises and laughter, I noticed that Steve's tone was faltering as I realized that his jokes had some hidden anger. The sportsmanship in him seemed to address his dismay in their actions, I kept reminding him of our great day and all the great things but it still didn't change the fact that he had to share a lake with some scrubs who didn't seem to share in his passion for the best hunting practices. This became the part of the day where the eternal optimist was getting frustrated.

My take: Steve, going to the dark side and ready to shed his light saber, myself, still elated with the day and preparing myself for breaking down camp

At 10 o'clock we called it quits, Steve would take the dog and a bulk of the hunting gear back to his truck and I would break down the camp and package everything else. After about 15 minutes, Steve returned and explained that he had run into a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who was checking ducks for the avian bird flu. Steve also mentioned that his buddies in the blind to our south had just pulled in, so he didn't waste much time in leaving. I did suggest asking the biologist whether or not they had success, for we had been watching them move all about and sauntering along in a canoe throughout the marsh. I thought maybe they were moving decoys, but when we reached the landing we asked the biologist about their luck. To our surprise, the sky-busters had nothing but had informed him that it looked like some other groups were having some luck. I could see a grin forming on Steve's face as he realized that their improper hunting tactics were rewarded with the proverbial goose egg.

My take: Steve, somehow turned it around with the sky-buster's lack of success, myself, thrilled with a great day but seriously exhausted and still looking at a three hour ride home.

We loaded all the gear, had a pleasant discussion with the biologist, and drove back to Steve's abode. After unpacking and shifting my gear back to my car, I went in to take a shower, eat some lunch, and enjoy a cup of coffee masterfully concocted by Steve's wife. By noontime and after we had watched our videos of the hunt, I began my journey back home. To look back at my first ever freshwater duck hunt, I wouldn't change a thing. It all ended up with the glass full.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Opener with the Rabid Outdoorsman: Part Three

After furnishing the blind with the essentials for tomorrow (guns, ammo, camouflage clothing, and everything else we would NOT need for the rest of the night), Steve quickly set out the decoys as I used a spotlight to assess the distance necessary for what we would call quality gunning. I found myself trying to say good night to my little girls via cell phone while racing against a sun that had already set. Once the “I love you” and “see you tomorrow” and “be good for mommy” were shared, I tossed the phone into my pocket and watched Steve throw out the last wood duck decoy.

My take: Steve, talking strategy and distance of the dekes, myself, just the same, all good, but getting hungry

We paddled along the east side of the island for a suitable access point to the center of the island and tied the boat to a sturdy oak tree. From there, we moved to the center of the island which was only about 120 feet from the “Quack Head” blind. Steve then did mention there was a fire pit, that got my pyromaniacal side going quite well. The race against time had been finished, setting up camp was now the current procedure.

My take: Steve, focused on readiness, myself, I'm building a fire, hell yeah!!!

Set up didn't take long, Steve, an experienced and knowledgeable mountain climber, outdoorsman, and collector of all equipment cool and multi-useful popped up a tent in 4 seconds while proudly introducing me to this single person mummy bag and tent. Not that I”m claustrophobic, well maybe a little bit, but I'm not an avid tenter. Actually, it's something that I don't usually do, the last tenting excursion was with my 4 year old this summer and we were four feet from the house, in aerobeds, and enjoying a movie with some popcorn.

You see it's like this, Steve likes mountains, world travel, sky diving, near death experiences, frostbite, pain, and adrenaline whereas I have never climbed a mountain, would rather stay in Maine unless someone leads the way out of state, find water and land just fine since I'm not meant to fly, damn it... I must be getting timid in my old age.

My take: Steve, loving the fact I'm pondering the mummy bag, myself, “This is going to be a sucky nights sleep”...

Steve fired up the stove and got the canned pasta ready, I played boy scout and tried to get a blaze going with some fairly wet amenities... As a true testament to Steve, he gave me a half-spent book of matches. With maple and oak leaves amongst some pine needles as tinder, the fire seemed sluggish getting to the smaller sticks as my dismay continued. After some continued failed attempts, Steve promptly handed me a lighter and suggested that this would help. To be honest, I thought, “Classic”, but then continued with my efforts. Eventually the fire caught on and with some help of Steve's cooking napalm and an increasing breeze. Once camp was settled, we sat down in some folding cushions provided by the bearer of all things cool and awesome. Then began some dialogue over two bottles of wine fashioned in the cellar of Steve's abode. And yeah, my fire croaked and the Maine Outdoorsman had to save the day. Whatever, I wish I hadn't even messed with the idea and I could see that crap eating grin bubble under Steve's facial scruff.

My take: Steve, relishing the survival test and my utter failure, myself, he's going to write about that damn fire!!!

Steve and I talk hunting, fishing, and the outdoors; but our conversations have become much more than just the size of the deer or the number of fish. We engage in a dialogue that often finds ourselves comparing notes, suggesting better practices, and how does our efforts result in the betterment of our lifestyles. More often than not we talk about our future in the outdoors with our children, Steve has two boys while I have two girls. A concern for both of us is that with changing attitudes towards our lifestyle, how can we maintain our “sport” while preserving so much of what we love for our children?

The night went from how Steve made the wine and whether or not his time invested actually offset the costs to go to a supermarket for something similar, a discussion about our blogs and the direction we want them to go, dialogue about whether or not cell phones have improved society or created even more problems for us to deal with, how we influence our children to make our world better against how our world will influence our children, and our hopes for the future. Not once did we talk about politics or the sewage that disperses with every lie, promise, and action. The time we spend together is about enjoying life, improving our world with our efforts, and the experiences generated from our different but connected worlds.

My take: Steve, in his element doing what he does best, myself, appreciating this time with my buddy and feeling that our sporting community is better for our discussions
We turned in about 11 p.m. and I knew tomorrow was going to be tough as our alarms were set for 4:30...

That's right, the alarm clock was set for 4:30 a.m., I wished I could have slept until then, by 3:30 I had been bombarded with falling acorns, the need to relieve myself, and a variety of sounds that including paddles, outboard engines, and talk amongst those hunters in the boats. There were thousands of dollars worth of equipment in that blind, I just couldn't get back in the sleeping bag and I demanded that Steve get ready. However, he seemed not as anxious about the potential crisis that loomed before daylight. Things weren't cool with me.

With my spotlight I ran towards the blind crashing through brush and trees shinning towards any fellow duck hunters to alert them of our “squatting”. I did get near the blind, but couldn't reach it as the water, muck, and a pair of boots (not waders, I hunt out of a boat, on the coast, and in trees) prohibited an easy access to our blind. Meanwhile, geese were honking in alarm and taking off into the darkness.

I figured that since things were going so well, I called Steve on the cell phone to announce that the hunting parties were heading elsewhere as if I hadn't already scared every duck out of the lake. I at best, meandered back up to the campsite,sort of on edge with the events of my pre-dawn mayhem. But honestly, I'm not sure Steve was worried at all. He is optimistic about life, myself slightly pessimistic with optimism as reason to function. When I got back, he seemed all ready for some hunting and suggested that the camp site could be broken after hunting.

My take: Steve, going with the flow, myself, panic button, wishing I could trust strangers more...

We arrived in the blind about 5 a.m., readied what we could, and then got into the coffee, Steve's heart attack blend should be renamed to “what the %$## (insert any four letter word you would like) is that?”. Oh god, wasn't that nasty, if anybody took a drink of that they would agree, now I'm not a latte fan but I do like a moderately strong cup of joe with a hit of sugar. If there is some cream available then I'll add a bit, but if none is available then I'm fine. The only reason I dared drink it was that I didn't sleep well at all, caffeine and duck hunting work well together, but this stuff seemed comparative to the coffee you get at a convienence store in the afternoon after it had been brewed at 4 a.m. and sat there all day long. Actually, this was worse.

Steve was so proud about his efforts, he boiled water and tempered the thermos, double brewed the coffee, boiled it, then put it in the thermos. He did a good job, it was piping hot straight out the thermos. Other than that, that was the worst coffee I have ever put to my lips. Think of the person that you like the least, I'd give it to them on your behalf...

My take: Steve, a master brewer of coffee, myself, I should have had a tester to die before I put my lips to the joe.

Check out the Rabid Outdoorsman's version which isn't so favorable for the Downeast Duckhunter at
The Maine Outdoorsman

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bands, Bling Bling Baby, Bands..

Matt Diesel, Drake Eider taken October 11, 2008

The Rabid Outdoorsman, Hen Eider taken December, 2007

Hen Eider, taken December 28, 2006
I had to do a write up on sea duck bands, especially since I was witness to the taking of a drake eider this past weekend. Sometimes in hunting, we get involved in something that seems to elevate the modest traditions of waterfowling. In this case, attaining a banded duck is a fairly big deal. The hunter gets a memoir of his or her day, an unforgettable experience. Additionally, that same hunter then finds oneself taking part in the scientific portion of the migration of that bird. Then, the Bird Band Lab and the USGS get to monitor all the ducks taken or found throughout in an attempt to learn more about these marvelous creatures. So when somebody attains a banded duck, a whole new learning curve takes shape. Here's my story about a unique experience I had with my second banded eider from 2006 as described from my entries from one of my favorite websites, Duck Hunting Chat.

January 2, 2007
I went local on Thursday, December 28, 2006 with my best man and another good buddy and since neither had ever chased eider, old squaws, and coots I thought I'd let them doing plenty of blasting. I did take two shots before my buddy lost his magazine cap, plug, and spring into the Atlantic (he then would need to use my Xtrema2) and scored a drake old squaw and a banded hen. The band was so worn that only four numbers existed along with some words, I called it in to explain my situation and they referred me to the lab in MD. They explained that since the band is stamped that the numbers actually go through the band. With their CSI technology they can determine the numbers, so needless to say I'm excited to find out the details.

January 3, 2007
So I've been in contact with the Bird Band Lab down in Laurel, MD and the representative got me onto their website and I encourage all to check it out. It's

Then I got a little more fierce and found some information on banded eiders and the guy who banded mine at Petit Manan refuge. It's

January 30, 2007
After more than a month of waiting, the BBL has returned my band from the hen taken off of Jonesport. They have informed me that they acquired the information necessary and will be sending me the information. Should have it reasonable soon, I'll be posting as soon as I receive the data.

February 13, 2007
I would have put this on the bird band post, but felt more people would check out a new post rather than visit the old one...

Got my data back from the hen eider I shot shortly after x-mas and the bird was banded in 1994 in Sonora, Nova Scotia which is closer to Louisbourg (one of Great Britain's stronghold's in the colonial era) than Halifax. The bird is believed to have been born in 1993 or better. That makes the hen at least 13-14 years old.

My other banded bird this year (actually ever) was banded on the petit manan wildlife refuge off of Milbridge in 2003, now all I need to do is get my wife convinced to have two eiders on the wall next to the moose and several deer. Suppose I'll have to make a "duckroom" in the basement.

Here's a map of where Sonora is...

Drake Eider, November 2006

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Power of a Woman...

Tonight my wife of 5 years informed me that "It's almost impossible for me to read your blog" for the simple reason of the white lettering against the black background. Now I thought it was cool and brought out my eyes... So anyways, let me know what you think about my new neutral and natural background with the dashing black lettering, but remember that your input isn't as important as my wife's...

Today, I looked at it and thought it didn't suit me well, so I have increased the font and might go back to black with grey letters...

But I'm not doing too much yet, I've only received one e-mail who understands my pain... Sometimes, love hurts...

The Opener with the Rabid Outdoorsman: Part Two

This submission will put our co-existent blogs at the same place as I have two parts to the Rabid Outdoorsman's first submission...

At the landing...
I bear witness to an obvious excitement and assurance in Steve's demeanor. Too often has he pledged his time traveling east to meet up with his brother, Matt, and myself for a hunt. Rarely have I been able to join Steve and appreciate his efforts and dedication to embrace the outdoors. Repeatedly, he would urge me to accompany him for a turkey hunt, trap shot, or fishing trip but often I deferred. Somehow, I can't find the time whereas he finds, or rather makes the time. I admire him for that, he seems to be flawless in how he manages work, family, and his own time without any obvious signs of dissent. However, I do expect his world to change some when his wife re-enters the workforce from her maternity leave. When that happens, I'll smile and suggest to him that it was a good run.

Without haste, we set out for our destination, apparently a speck of an island, only to find that spot already garnished with an assortment of decoys. In the center of that quality spread, sat two fellow waterfowlers behind a blind next to a tent on an island about twenty feet in diameter. They too would be spending the night before the opener. Steve obviously knew them, sailed closer, and we chatted for a bit, but a quickly setting sun required a move to plan B. Steve looked at me and proclaimed that “Quack head” was our next stop. Ah, the legendary gunning hole that Steve spoke so well of, but I then was wondering why wasn't this special point of interest our first choice?

My take: Steve, the Rabid Outdoorsman reactive, but still positive and myself, dented but hoping for the best... Quack head here we come...

In about 5 minutes we arrived at the far side of this larger, but still small island. At the southern tip as we began to idle along was this fixed blind constructed of wood about 8 feet in width, 5 feet in depth, and covered by roof. Absolutely no work had been done to cover the blind, and little did I know that this would become my job while Steve motored back to get the rest of his gear and his trusty companion “Onyx”. With my instructions rendered, I mulled my circumstances and then began clipping brush and covering this blind.

My take: Steve, excited about our possibilities, myself racing against the dark, slightly stressed but functioning

We have seen quite a bit of rain these past few weeks and the water level seemed to me rather high, the blind almost seemed to be on the end of a peninsula of submerged brush and cover. Only a little strip of dry land connected the blind to the island, well at least I thought when I tried to get some more brush further away from the blind and aptly discovered that I was “stranded” with my muck boots.

Steve returned with the dog and seemed encouraged by my work, hell I've never put a leafy branch on some chicken wire, but I didn't think it was rocket science. However, these birds had been flying by the box blind without any cover for several months now and I wondered if my efforts would actually increase our odds of getting more ducks. Besides that, Steve seemed content with the work and started handing me our gear for the hunt.

My take: Steve, eager for camp, myself, encouraged by Steve's reaction to my work

Check out Rabid's post on his angle...

The Duckman Cometh...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Matt Diesel, in full effect...

Sunrise Over the Reach...

In a given year, I figure that if I were to go out sea ducking, Matt Diesel would be with me over 50% of the time. Matty is the younger brother of the Rabid Outdoorsman, and the three of us are the founders of our hunting club, DuckPower...

Now I've been out a few times this year and this was Matty's first time out sea ducking, so I expected some rust from the sharp shooter. Well, to make a long story short, old Diesel wasn't having his A-game this morning. I promised him that I wouldn't roast him too bad, so from this point on, he was awesome!!!

On any account, we ended up with our limit early and to end this absolutely beautiful morning, Matt Diesel scored a banded drake eider. For those of you that don't know, this is something special to any duck hunter and I would compare this to getting a great 8 point buck. In my 22 years of sea duck hunting, I've managed to drum up only 2 and those both came two years ago. This was Matt's second band, and I want to give him a big shout out for his good fortunes.