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It appears that the pundits who claimed that the fall foliage season would be a bust due to the dry conditions all over Maine have some explaining to do. While the leaves did start out rather dull and colorless late in September there have been brilliant bursts of color throughout the state that suggest water, or the lack of it, has nothing to do with the bright colors of fall. Everywhere I have been in the last few weeks I’ve seen areas of hardwoods that literally glowed in the early morning and afternoon sunlight. I’ve always been a fan of orange, red and yellow leaves, together or individually, and I did not have to go far to find superior examples of all three. I’ll let the chemistry fans out there explain the whys and wherefores of October foliage. All I know is that I often had to stop and gaze at some of the most brilliant examples. There was some tremendous viewing to be had on Interstate Route 95, but every back road and country lane in central Maine was lit up with color in recent days.
I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for it but I’ve found that no photo, painting or image of the autumn foliage can compare to how those leaves look with the naked eye. No doubt it has something to do with our ability to perceive colors, or perhaps it’s the 3D effect that’s missing, but the woods look so much better in “real life” than they do in any sort of reproduction. Close, perhaps, but not quite.
With October, of course, comes hunting season. All the buzz has been about deer, moose, bears, turkeys and small game but the waterfowl hunting season is also upon us, which should bring some interesting challenges to those who like to hunt ducks and geese over water. The drought that has plagued us all summer has raised havoc with water levels on small ponds, streams and rivers, to the point that traditional roosting and feeding sites have been devoid of birds all fall. In years past I always had flocks of geese flying close to or over the house at dawn and dusk, but this year I have not seen nor heard the first group of Canadas in the skies. The same goes for ducks, which normally includes small flocks of wood ducks, mallards or mergansers swooping by early and late in the day.
According to the various waterfowl clubs and organizations this is going to be another “good” year for duck hunting but it will likely take some creative thinking for hunters to bag their limits when most shallow waters are now little more than mud flats. Just this week I went out to check out my favorite wood duck bog and found nothing but matted grass and weeds – not even a drop of water could be seen anywhere. Of course, the mud was deep and thick so I could not walk directly in the muddy channel, but I spent about two hours sneaking along the brushy border of the flowage and did not jump a single duck.
My guess is that the birds are going to be on larger waters (lakes, ponds and rivers) where there is enough depth to allow ducks and geese to rest and loaf well away from the dangers that lurk on the shoreline. This will be good for the birds but not so good for hunters, who will need to find more creative ways to get to their quarry. Traditional shoreline blinds and decoy setups won’t work because there’s no water for the birds to land in. At one point I used my range-finder to calculate the distance to the nearest open water and found that I would have to cross over 200 yards of muck to get to where the birds were. Considering that the mud will likely be hip deep and littered with obstacles such as logs, rocks, brush and seep holes, I decided that the risk was not worth the effort.
I recall years ago when goose hunters at Bombay Hook, Delaware, used snowshoes or every strips of plywood strapped to the boots to reach birds on the tidal flats during low tide, but that seemed to be a good idea for young, strapping men who really wanted to bring a snow goose home for the oven. I have to admit that my days of snowshoeing across mile-long mud flats are long past.
I do have a bit of bad news to report that, alas, can only be blamed on me. Last fall I brought a kayak, PFD and paddle out to a remote beaver flowage where I planned to hunt ducks in the fall and fish for trout in spring. My plan worked perfectly at first, with plenty of encounters with wood ducks, black ducks, mallards and mergansers in fall and then some good trout fishing last spring.
I left the kayak covered with brush in a spot that was well off the trail, thick and difficult to get to but, sad to say, someone did find their way in there. When I went out to try some duck hunting recently I discovered that my kayak had been stolen along with my paddle and PFD. I had hoped that someone may have used it and simply left it somewhere else, but I walked the edge of the deadwater for a mile in both directions and could not find it.
I half expected that someone might take my kayak, which is why I purchased a cheap setup including the vest and paddle, but I was saddened to find that, sure enough, human nature has not changed much over the past 40 years. Decades ago I left a few 12-foot canoes near lakes and ponds I fished regularly and for some years they were always near where I left them, none the worse for wear. All anyone had to do was use the craft, return it to where they found it and no harm done. But, by 1980 all of my canoes had been taken or destroyed. One was shot to pieces and left where it lay, full of holes and totally useless. The vests and paddles were also ruined.
I hope whoever took my kayak enjoys it. Now we shall see if there really is such a thing as Karma!

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