Purely anecdotal report: Birds aplenty

Brad Allen, the biologist who serves as bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, has given me plenty of good advice over the years.

Among the nuggets of wisdom that he (and other state biologists, for that matter) have handed out is an explanation of how biologists think … and how hunters often don’t.

Allen and his biologist colleagues concentrate on data. Real data, gathered over time, in a scientific way, you see.

Pete Warner of Bangor shows off a couple of ruffed grouse he shot while hunting not far from Moosehead Lake during the first week of bird season. (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Us hunters? We tend to look at the world through anecdotal glasses. Whatever we see on a given day? That’s our data. That’s the way it is. And if we have a few friends who see similar things, the amateur biologist in all of us tends to lump that “data” together and decide there must be a trend.

One hunter who sees plenty of grouse (or deer, or moose) can convince himself that things are great throughout the region, or the state. A hunter who doesn’t see a thing can convince himself that there’s no wildlife to be found for miles.

And all of this information is anecdotal, and could mean nothing, as far as a biologist is concerned.

Maybe the hunter just tromps around on the most productive habitat in the state … or the least. Perhaps he’s better at being stealthy than others … or worse.

Anecdotal reports.

With that rather long-winded disclaimer out of the way, here’s some (potentially) good news (as long as you were in the woods when we were, more than 10 days ago): There are plenty of birds around, and you don’t even have to head to the northern reaches of the state to find ’em. Again, this report is 100 percent anecdotal. Believe it at your own risk.

The background: A few weeks back, Allen told me that the prospects for this year’s bird season wasn’t so hot. Because of a wet spring, he said most hunters would have a mediocre season. Those up north, though — in the vast North Maine Woods — would have a better time of it.

So when a few friends and I spent three days during the first week of bird season at a camp not far from Moosehead Lake, we didn’t expect much.

We’ve been doing this trip for a few years, you see. And we never see many birds, even in years when biologists told us we should.

This year, though, things were different.

Not that any of us shot a limit of four grouse in a day, mind you. But we saw plenty of birds — far more than we ever had. And we even got some shots off. Some years, some of us return to the Bangor area with full boxes of shotgun shells after driving dozens of miles on these same roads.

So are there more birds out there than expected?

Probably not. This is, after all, just one hunter’s anecdotal tale.

The lesson, I guess, is the same one I learn most times I head afield: You see a heck of a lot more critters when you actually get out the door than you do if you stay home because all of your buddies say there are no critters to be seen.

Foliage is peaking. Leaves are falling. Spotting birds is getting easier.

Sounds like a pretty good reason to head into the woods, if you ask me.

Of course, that’s based entirely on anecdotal reports.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.