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Rod, Gun & Game Outdoor Column: Panorama in local winter outdoors

Appreciating getting involved with wintering wildlife, such as these wintering deer, can be a beautiful thing. (Photo by Joe Forma)
Ever notice that our snow-covered forests and hillsides provide a natural intervention and a rest period from the growing season of our panoramic Western New York outdoors. Tall trees, barren of all their leaves, seem ever taller as the bright sunlight of a winter sunrise morning provides a community of shadows in stark contrast to the snow in the woods.

Deer and turkey offer their unmistakable silhouettes with ease to onlookers in search of the spirit of the winter outdoors, who usually stop and stare (I admit it) while they try to desperately keep their car or truck vehicle on the road. Camera buffs abound on those perfect winter days where it seems the snow sparkles with extra flash and there is a kinship with all in the outdoors — you realize it is so precious.

Yet the protocol of changing winter days can offer a new perception of winter harshness, too, amidst the beauty of enduring winter days, especially in February. On such days, it is easy to appreciate the irrepressible capacity for wildlife to overcome the weather, survive the day, and look toward the next new day and warm spring.

The birds scamper from tree to tree in search of emerging buds and other natural foodstuffs, but close observation will show they seem to know exactly where the kindest of human souls with bird feeders can rekindle their survival spirit each day — my house. The squirrels and chipmunks know, too, and compete with the birds for the renewed provisional food willingly delivered each day by outdoor folks looking to provide subsistence aid for local wildlife.

My better half observes all of these inherent winter critters with a wonderful zest and compassion that affirms her overwhelming reverence for animal and bird life. She understands that the bees are in hibernation, but she accepts that the birds seem to need her recurring assistance for survival and she enjoys providing regular refill of the best bird seed she can find. She does not talk very nicely to the squirrels stealing bird food though, preferring they would find their acorns and nuts they buried all over the lawn before the snow fell. Glad I’m not a squirrel. It gets pretty noisy.

Most of our winter bird friends are common sparrows, grackles and finches — no robins yet this year, but this winter, we are building a pair of new bluebird houses to mount in the backyard a few weeks from now. The bluebird houses are made from modest rough-hewn white pine or hemlock (Amish lumbermill), three-fourths inches thick, and offer a side panel that rotates outward with a detachable pin to permit a view of the internal house contents — tiny eggs, hopefully, as spring evolves. The rough surfaces near the one-and-a-half inch diameter front entry hole, helps the birds enter and exit without issue.

The roof board is extended to provide cover from the weather above the entry hole and, more importantly, to make it difficult for raccoons and squirrels to reach in and steal the newborn bluebird eggs. Raccoons in search of food offer little remorse in this regard; nature’s way can sometimes be hard to understand and accept.

Plans for the easy-to-build bluebird houses are available at many websites. NYSDEC provides a set of easy to understand instructions at

Following the birds and wildlife during the winter in Western New York allows us to rekindle that wonderful survivor relationship we all have because we live here too, plus it allows us to experience those changes and interacting elements of the life and the land in our unique cold climate. Those Florida folks have no idea! Enjoy this simple, but grand winter adventure!

Lake Erie fishing was hot in 2012

Final angler survey results have been concluded by NYSDEC for 2012 boat fishing activity on the New York waters of Lake Erie. Overall fishing effort has increased for three consecutive years, measured at approximately 338,000 angler-hours. The 2012 fishing effort total was the largest effort recorded in the last eight survey years, with 50 percent of anglers fishing for walleye, 20 percent of anglers fishing for bass and 17 percent for yellow perch, then remaining species.

Angling quality for walleye, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch in 2012 were all above long term Lake Erie averages. Hats off to NYSDEC for compiling annual survey records, this year marking 25 consecutive years for collecting and analyzing the data. The accuracy of the data provides empirical evidence of the fishery quality, allowing anglers and recreationalists to understand changes when they occur and to practice the best possible management for important Lake Erie fish species.

The New York angler effort and harvest data for walleye and yellow perch are compared with data from neighboring Lake Erie states and the province of Ontario to produce a lake-wide assessment of the fish species status that help establish proper harvest limits across all Lake Erie borders.

Turkey hen study

NYSDEC is in the first year of a four-year, statewide banding and telemetry study to determine hen turkey survival and harvest rates. From January through March, hens will be captured and fitted with leg bands. Some birds will also be equipped with radio transmitters so DEC can track their movements and seasonal survival. Trapping and banding will be done on both state and private lands. Any landowners interested in cooperating are asked to contact wildlife biologist Emilio Rende at 372-0645.

Hunters set safety mark

The data is in and the 2012 hunting season was the safest hunting season on record ever. The 2012 season included 24 personal hunting incidents with just over half being self-inflicted. Most unfortunate were two fatalities that occurred during the deer season in which the individuals were shot by members of their own hunting group.

Incidents involving two or more individuals stress the importance of one of hunting’s basic tenets — identifying your target and what lies beyond. No hunting-related shooting incidents occurred during the first youth firearms hunt for deer that took place this past Columbus Day weekend during the early archery season.

While the number of hunters in NYS is declining, the rate of hunting incidents per 100,000 hunters is decreasing much faster. Since the 1960s, the number of hunters has declined about 20 percent, while the incident rate has plunged more than 70 percent. The past five-year average is 5.3 incidents per 100,000 hunters, compared to 19 per 100,000 in the 1960s.

Trained instructors certified by DEC teach safe, responsible and ethical outdoors practices and the important role of hunters and trappers in conservation. New York has an extremely safety-conscious generation of hunters, thanks largely to more than 60 years of dedicated efforts of more than 2,500 volunteer Sportsman Education Instructors. All first-time hunters and bowhunters must successfully complete a hunter safety course and pass the 50-question written final exam before being eligible to purchase a hunting license. All courses are offered free of charge.

Great Backyard Bird Count

If you love to watch birds, consider participating in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) from Feb. 15-18. Participants count the number of individual birds of each species you see for at least 15 minutes. You can do this from any location you enjoy viewing birds, whether in your backyard or at a favorite park or wildlife refuge. Lastly, you don’t have to be an expert at identifying birds to participate.

Your bird checklist can easily be submitted through the GBBC website, or, new this year, through eBird online at To learn more about the GBBC, get bird identification tips, receive downloadable participation instructions and more, visit online at

Outdoors Calendar

Feb. 15: NYS weasel, opossum, raccoon, skunk and fox hunting seasons closes.

Feb. 16: Southtowns Walleye Installation Dinner and Awards Banquet, Lucarelli’s, 1830 Abbott Rd., Lackawanna, 6 pm – midnight, for tickets call Mike McCloud at 941-5314.

Feb. 16/17: Seneca Allegany Sportsmen’s Show, Seneca Allegany Events Center, Salamanca, 9 am-4 pm, see:

Feb. 16: Harry Staebell Memorial Archery Shoot, open to public, 8 am-3 pm, West Falls Conservation Society, 55 Bridge St., West Falls, e-mail Bob Pfeil at or call Mike Cummins at 432-6035.

Feb. 17: WNY Winter 3D League Archery Shoot, open to public, 8 am – 3 pm, Evans Rod & Gun, 864 Cain Rd., call Ray Zylinski, Jr. at 866-5072.

Feb. 20: Trap Shooting, West Falls Conservation, 55 Bridge St., West Falls, open to public, 7 pm start, call Dave at 652-8509

Feb. 23: Gun Raffle, Southtowns Walleye Association, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg, noon-5 pm, $220 donation, for tickets, call Franklin Thompson at 553-7630.

Feb. 24: WNY Winter 3D League Archery Shoot, open to public, 8 am-3 pm, GlenCoe Conservation Society, 9869 Foote Rd., Glenwood, call Dave Procknal at 337-0733.

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