Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Keeping up with DFW topics, bald eagles

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Needless to say, the pandemic has caused a lot of interruptions in our daily lives, especially with our local outdoor sports community. They used to receive information from the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen on a monthly basis regarding state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife on topics like hunting, fishing and land acquisitions. But with the social distancing, that had ended. The various DFW District offices were ordered to close their offices to the public until it is over.Now, at least until the ban is lifted, the League is able to meet with the DFW Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden virtually. Madden took the time to show up at his office Thursday night and coordinated the Zoom connections with the various League delegates at their homes. It's the next best thing to being there with him, for we could see and hear him as well as the fellow League delegates. Many thanks to Andrew for going that extra mile to keep the local outdoor sports folks informed.

Here's what transpired at our first Zoom meeting:

Because the DFW is a state organization, they have been put on an altered work assignment. Most of the Western District staff is still coming in to do essential work. The office is still operational, although not open to the public — but could be reached for help if needed. The ban will last at least until Monday and then they will see what happens after that. It's up to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Trout stocking was also discussed. Rumors have been spreading that due to COVID-19, the trout in the hatcheries were all stocked out, including the big ones, and the hatcheries were closed. Madden reported that they are not true. At the beginning, not knowing what was going to happen with the pandemic, the DFW moved a lot of the fish earlier than they normally would have from middle March until the end of April. Then they received directives to slow down for a while because they had moved a lot of fish into all of the ponds and some of the rivers. There was a lull in stocking, but now they are back to a point where they can safely go into the hatcheries with their own staff and started moving fish again.

The DFW website will show what has been stocked. DFW personnel were scheduled to stock through this week, and possibly into this coming week.

Regarding the big fish that many anglers have caught, Madden said that most of the big fish came from the Sandwich Fish Hatchery. Every year the Western District receives one or two of them. Most of the fish received from them were in the regular size range, but there were some doozies this year. According to Madden, there was nothing out of ordinary this year as far as emptying the hatcheries. Fish have to be stocked in order to make room for next year's fish and the year after.

Madden continued by noting that land acquisition activity is still ongoing. But due to the social distancing, it is more difficult to hold public meetings and have the right people present at the right places. They anticipate the land acquisitions to be about the same as they have been in prior years and their projects should all get done. Western District Land Agent Peter Milenasi has been working on them right through the pandemic.

Western District staff is still doing some of the biological projects during the spring — grouse surveys, woodcock surveys, counting duck plots, installing loon rafts, etc. They still have one more loon raft to put out. Madden mentioned that in one of the sites, the loons were back and waiting for their raft. Madden is looking for other places to put in more rafts. If anyone hears of loons anywhere especially in ponds that don't get much use, please let him know by emailing andrew.madden@mass.gov.

The Western District has also used this year to do a lot more stewardship work. There is a lot of pressure on the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and other open spaces, with many more people looking for places to go. Most of WMAs don't usually get a lot of people in the spring and summer, but this year they are seeing a substantial increase in them due to Covid-19. They are having more than their normal issues with ATVs because lots of people have more time. They are working on WMA boundaries. The bear project is still up and going. Collaring of the bears went well this year. They are doing a little more work with kestrel boxes because numbers of them are coming back in the Berkshires.

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Madden reported that there is a big habitat project going on at the Stafford Hill Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Cheshire, primarily mowing and mulching with big machines. There is another habitat project planned in the town of Middlefield, presumably the Walnut Hill WMA, but it hasn't started yet.

Because of the closures and mandates, all turkey check stations were closed during the season. DFW had a phone check-in at the Dalton office but very few people called. Madden felt that most people checked in on line. Discussions ensued over the fact that some kids lost out turkey on hunting this year because they couldn't get FID cards when they turned 15 because offices were closed. In spite of that, Madden felt that it was a good youth hunt for those who had licenses this year with a lot of people getting birds. However, it was tricky with the Covid-19 mandates.

Finally, Madden wrapped up by saying he thinks the mandates will continue until at least Monday. If anyone has a question or needs to reach someone from his office, they are answering the phones. No person is working there all the time, but most of the time there will be someone there. Phone calls will be returned.

Keeping tabs on our Onota Lake bald eagles

Did you happen to see The Berkshire Eagle photographer Ben Garver's excellent pictures of the bald eagle flying around Onota Lake? It was on the front page of the May 12 edition of the paper. A lot of people have been watching that eagle and its mate for some time.

One of them is photographer Mark Thorne of Pittsfield. He is keeping us up-to-date with the eagle happenings on Onota Lake, too. Mark has been kindly sending us amazing photos of an old couple that has resided there for some time. He got a chance to check on them nesting at Onota Lake recently. His pictures make it quite evident that the eggs have hatched and the adults are feeding chicks. Over the four hours that he was there they swapped nest sitting twice, were extremely careful sitting on chicks, and occasionally fed them.

Mark said that around 4 p.m. one day things got "a little dicey" due to an immature bald eagle flying way too close to the nest. At the time the male was on the nest and the female was soaring low over it. Possibly because he felt the need to protect the chicks, or maybe because he did not see the other bird as a threat, the male never left the nest. The female joined him and soon after the immature eagle flew off. A few years ago, Mark saw the male attacking an adult eagle that came too close to the nest.

Mark believes that the female is 18 and the male is 16 years old this year! Unfortunately, he did not tell us their names.

Many thanks to Mark Thorne for sharing the information with us. He is an excellent wildlife photographer and has some amazing pictures of a nesting pair of red tailed hawks that, with his permission, I hope to include in an upcoming column.

Gene Chague can be reached at berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com or 413-637-1818.


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