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MassWildlife Monthly April 2021

News from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Table of Contents

Trout tips and tricks

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has been operating fish hatcheries since the agency was formed in 1866, making it the oldest state-operated hatchery program in the country. Today, MassWildlife manages five hatcheries in Belchertown, Montague, Sunderland, Sandwich, and Palmer, producing brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout. Each spring and fall, MassWildlife stocks these trout in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams throughout the state.  

MassWildlife began spring trout stocking in March, and will continue stocking through May. Anglers can find daily stocking reports by visiting mass.gov/trout Read on to learn how to identify the different species of trout and get tips for catching them. 

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis

Brook trout, also known as eastern brook trout, brookies, square tails, and brook char, are Massachusetts’ only native trout. Mature, wild brook trout are often less than 8 inches, whereas brook trout from MassWildlife’s hatcheries are 9–18 inches. 

Identifiers:  

  • Worm-like markings along their back and head

  • Yellow and red spots (the latter surrounded by blue halos) along the sides 

  • Spots lighter than body 

  • White leading edge, backed by black, on its lower fins 

  • During fall spawning season males often develop a deep reddish tint along the belly and darken to black on the chin and throat 

Tips for catching brook trout 

  • Stocked brook trout are found in rivers, lakes, and ponds across the state. (Find stocked waterbodies at mass.gov/trout) They are fairly easy to catch and will strike flies, streamers, small spoons and spinners, worms, grass-hoppers, and even tiny colored marsh-mallows. 

  • Wild brook trout can be found in shaded stream habitats and should be approached stealthily to avoid detection. Drifting a worm downstream beneath a tiny bobber is an effective technique; you may need to add a split-shot a few inches above the hook to get the bait into swift current areas.

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta

Brown trout get their name from their golden-brown color. Also known as German brown trout and Loch Leven Trout, they are native to Europe and Asia and were introduced into Massachusetts in the late 1800s. They are 9–18 inches long when stocked. 

Identifiers: 

  • Golden to brownish-yellow color, sometimes almost silvery 

  • Scattered spots with silver halos

  • Spots are darker than the body 

Tips for catching brown trout 

  • One of the most difficult trout to catch because they are easily spooked and difficult to fool. 

  • Brown trout have more nocturnal habits. 

  • Target them with minnow-imitating plugs, spoons, spinners and streamers, various moth imitations (especially at night) and with cast or trolled live shiners.

Tiger Trout (Salmo trutta X Salvelinus fontinalis

Tiger trout get their name from their distinctive striped color pattern. They are a sterile hybrid produced from a male brook trout and a female brown trout. MassWildlife raises tiger trout at the Sandwich Hatchery and stocks approximately 2,500 tiger trout annually. Due to the small number released each year, they are a unique trophy sought by anglers throughout the state. Tiger trout are 14 inches or longer when stocked. 

Identifiers: 

  • Dramatic worm-like pattern across most of their body 

  • Thicker-built than other trout species and like to throw their weight around 

Tips for catching tiger trout 

  • Be prepared; tigers strike more readily and fight harder than either of its parents. 

  • Target tiger trout the same way you would target a brown trout - with minnow-imitating plugs, spoons, spinners and streamers, various moth imitations (especially at night) and with cast or trolled live shiners.

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss

Rainbow trout get their name from their multicolored pattern. Native to Pacific coastal areas from northern Mexico to Alaska, rainbow trout are now found on every continent except Antarctica. Rainbow trout account for more than 60% of MassWildlife’s hatchery production. Their popularity with anglers stems from their eagerness to bite, beautiful appearance, strong leaping ability, and large size when stocked. Most rainbow trout are more than 12 inches when stocked. 

Identifiers: 

  • Pinkish to red longitudinal band 

  • Small black spots cover them from head to tail 

  • Wide, square tail 

Tips for catching rainbow trout 

  • Rainbow trout strike a variety of baits and lures. 

  • In rivers, an effective technique is to drift half a night crawler or a salmon egg down into pools and holding areas behind boulders. 

  • Nymphs and small gold or silver spinners fished with ultra-light gear is another useful technique. 

  • In lakes and ponds, small spoons and minnow imitations, gaudy streamers, weighted nymphs, and live baits in the form of garden worms, meal worms and tiny shiners will all work well when catching rainbow trout. 

  • The most effective “stockie killer” of recent years is Berkley’s marshmallow-like powerbait. What color the fish will prefer on any given day remains one of the greatest mysteries in fishing.

Spring turkey hunting

  • Hunters are encouraged to buy hunting licenses and permits online
    MassWildlife offices are currently closed, but hunters can purchase licenses and permits online through MassFishHunt, or through any license vendor. Minors under 18 years old can also purchase licenses online, click here for details
  • Get your turkey hunting sticker
    Regulation requires that all hunters place an official green safety sticker on their firearm positioned so it's visible when sighting down the barrel. If you need a new or replacement sticker for your firearm, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: MassWildlife, Attn: Turkey Safety Sticker, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA 01581. PLEASE SUBMIT REQUESTS BY APRIL 16 to ensure enough time to process and return mail safety stickers prior to opening day. Requests received after the above date may not be fulfilled before opening day.
  • Report your turkey harvest online
    MassWildlife urges all hunters to use MassFishHunt to report harvested birds online. If you need to report your harvest in person, view a map of check stations open this spring
  • Spring turkey hunting tips
    Get ready for the season with new turkey tips. Check out the descriptions and videos to learn about pre-season scouting, using decoys, roosting birds, or brush up on your calls.

Turkey hunting safety information

  • Follow state guidance related to COVID-19, social distancing, and travel.
  • Always follow the 10 basic rules of firearm safety.
  • Be completely sure of your target and what is beyond it before you shoot. Always practice firearm safety.
  • Don't stalk turkey sounds; it could be another hunter. Sit or stand and call the birds to you.
  • Do not wear red, white, blue, or black; these colors are associated with male turkeys.
  • Protect your back. Set up against a large tree or rock and make sure your view isn't obstructed. Don't hide in a place with an obstructed view.
  • Do not place decoys too close to where you set up. Never carry an exposed decoy or tail fan while hunting; put them in a bag when carrying them in or out of hunting locations. 
  • Consider wearing hunter orange when entering or leaving your hunting area.

Prescribed fire season begins

MassWildlife kicked off the 2021 prescribed fire season by conducting two successful prescribed burns, totaling 55 acres, at Frances Crane Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in March and a 68-acre burn on Penikese Island in early April. These fires are designed to maintain pitch pine oak woodland, shrubland, and sandplain grassland habitats. Many plants found at Frances Crane WMA have developed adaptations to fire, including orange milkweed, wood lily, scrub oak, and wild yellow indigo—the host plant of the declining frosted elfin butterfly.

While mechanical forms of habitat management—like mowing and tree thinning—are important tools, they cannot fully substitute for fire when it comes to restoring and maintaining special habitats like barrens. Barrens can be grasslands, shrublands, or woodlands, but all barrens share common soil and climatic characteristics. Additionally, all barrens need periodic disturbance and occasional fires to thrive. Numerous wildlife species benefit from MassWildlife’s habitat management activities including American woodcock, eastern whip-poor-will, grasshopper sparrow, buck moth, sandplain gerardia, and many others.

Prescribed fire is essential for maintaining and restoring native grasslands. Fire recycles nutrients tied up in old plant growth, controls woody plant encroachment, and stimulates germination and growth of many uncommon and rare fire-adapted plants. Fire promotes growth of warm season grasses such as little bluestem and Indian grass and re-invigorates grassland habitats that support more than 150 species of diminishing wildlife and plants. Prescribed fire also helps reduce the build-up of woody plant materials and debris and reduces the risk of large wildfires. Fire can also be used to manage and restore oak woodlands by reducing growth of red maple and white pine to allow more sunlight for germination and growth of oak species that are an important food source for many kinds of wildlife.

As in recent years, MassWildlife has a busy prescribed fire season planned and will target grasslands, heathlands, inland barrens, oak woodlands, oak hickory forests, marshes, fens, and wet meadows that are influenced by fire and important for wildlife. Many elements are needed in order for a prescribed fire to take place including an experienced crew, a qualified prescribed burn boss, specialized tools, an authorized prescribed fire plan, permits, and the list goes on and on! With safety as a top priority, fire program managers carefully prepare well before the season begins.

MassWildlife works with other agencies and organizations to carry out prescribed fires. By sharing resources and expertise, this partnership allows us to work toward the mutual goal of building a more resilient landscape and improving the quality of life in neighboring communities. Many thanks to our partners at DCR Bureau of Forest Fire Control, NPS Cape Cod National Seashore, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and local fire departments in helping us get off to a good start this year.

Young wildlife in spring

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, Massachusetts residents are spending a lot of time in their homes and yards. Do you know what to do if you find a baby bird, a nest of newborn bunnies, or another young animal in your yard this spring?

The arrival of spring means the arrival of young wildlife. Every year, the lives of young creatures are disturbed by people who take young animals from the wild in a well-intentioned attempt to save them, but this often does more harm than good. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is reminding the public that young wildlife belong in the wild and urging residents to leave young wildlife alone. Finding a young animal alone does not mean it’s been abandoned or needs to be rescued. Adults are often nearby and visit their young only occasionally to avoid detection from predators.

Nearly all wild birds and mammals are protected by law; they may not legally be taken from the wild or kept as pets. Most people quickly find that they can’t properly care for young wildlife, and many animals soon die in the hands of people trying to help. Young wildlife removed from the wild are also denied important natural learning experiences which help them survive on their own. Even if these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced. Often, the care given to young wildlife results in some attachment to humans and the animals may return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars. With little fear of humans, once-tamed wildlife may become nuisances or injure people.

What you should do:

  • If you find a baby bird: While baby birds may look helpless, they do not need your assistance unless you see clear signs of injury, like a broken wing. If you find a hatchling or nestling (a young bird without feathers) outside the nest, you can try to return it to its nest or create an artificial nest. The parents will not reject it if you touch it. If you find a fledgling (a young, fully feathered bird) outside the nest, leave it alone. While it is spending some time hopping around on the ground learning how to fly, the parents are usually nearby still taking care of it. If you find a fledgling near a road or exposed to danger, it can be moved to a safer, sheltered location nearby. Young birds naturally have a low survival rate, which keeps populations in balance with available resources.
  • If you find a fawn: Young deer are born in late May and early June. Even if you see a fawn alone for several days, you should still leave it alone. The animal may be motionless and seem vulnerable, but this is the normal behavior for a fawn and the mother (doe) is probably feeding or bedded nearby. Fawns are safest when left alone because their camouflaging color helps them remain undetected. Does visit their fawns to nurse very infrequently, a behavior that helps fawns avoid detection by predators. If sympathetic people repeatedly visit a fawn, it can prolong separation from the doe and delay needed feeding. Fawns cannot be cared for by wildlife rehabilitators; if a fawn is visibly injured or found with its dead mother, call MassWildlife at (508) 389-6300. Click here for more information on finding a fawn.
  • If you find bunnies or other young mammals: Generally, young mammals are visited by their mother only a few times a day to avoid attracting predators to the young. For example, a nest of bunnies will only be visited by the adult female twice per day to nurse the young. The young are generally safe when left alone because their color patterns and lack of scent help them remain undetected. In most cases, it’s best to leave young animals alone.
  • Keep pets leashed. Keeping pets indoors or restrained helps wildlife, as pets often like to chase and hunt songbirds and other mammals. This also helps your pets avoid health and safety dangers posed by wild animals, other pets, or automobiles.
  • Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. In almost all cases, it’s best to leave wildlife alone and let nature take its course. In the rare case you find a young animal with a dead parent or if you see visible signs of injury, you can contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. An injured wild animal may be assisted, but a person must deliver the animal immediately to a licensed rehabilitator. MassWildlife licenses wildlife rehabilitators who are qualified to care for most injured or truly orphaned wildlife.

For more information on what to do if you find sick, injured, or young wildlife, please click here.

Public hearing: 2021-2022 migratory game bird regulations

A public hearing will be held on Friday, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. to establish rules and regulations relative to the 2021–2022 migratory game bird hunting seasons. This public hearing will be held virtually via Zoom (scroll down for instructions to join).  

Due to the migratory game bird season filing requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Fisheries and Wildlife Board must vote to finalize and approve the 2021–2022 migratory bird seasons at the close of the hearing. Therefore, please note: There will be no written comment period after this public hearing. Written comments may be submitted prior to the hearing via email to susan.sacco@mass.gov, Subject: Fisheries and Wildlife Board, or via the U.S.P.S. to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board, MassWildlife Field Headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westborough, MA 01581. 

The full proposed rules and regulations are posted below so that interested persons can review them and provide written comments prior to the hearing and oral comments during the public-comment portion of the hearing. Here is a summary of the proposed changes: 

  • Woodcock Season: October 7 through November 27  

  • Youth and Veteran’s Waterfowl Hunts: September 25 and October 9  

  • Early Goose Season: September 7 through September 24  

  • Regular Goose Season 

    • Berkshire Zone: October 12 through November 13  

    • Central Zone: October 11 through November 27 and December 13 through January 1  

    • Coastal Zone: October 16 through October 23 and November 23 through January 22  

  • Duck Season  

    • Berkshire Zone: October 12 through November 27 and December 6 through December 27  

    • Central Zone: same as Regular Goose Season 

    • Coastal Zone: same as Regular Goose Season 

Full text of proposed rules and regulations: DFW - Final Draft - 2021-2022 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations

Instructions to join the public hearing via Zoom 

The hearing, which will begin at 9:30 a.m., will be held in the same webinar as the April monthly business meeting of the Fisheries and Wildlife Board (begins at 9 a.m.; meeting notice). Attendees can enter and exit the webinar at any time and all attendees will be given the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and/or make oral comments during the hearing if they wish. Click here to join the Zoom session using your computer, tablet, or smartphone by clicking this link with Passcode Nf493y, or you can join by phone by calling 1-929-205-6099 and entering the Webinar ID: 824 8045 8458 and Passcode: 532851 when prompted.

Trout study launched on the Swift River

The Swift River is one of the most unique and popular trout fishing destinations in Massachusetts. In addition to the wild brook trout found in the Swift, MassWildlife also stocks rainbow and brown trout from its McLaughlin Hatchery. Many anglers travel for miles to fish the cold, clear waters of the Swift in the hopes of landing a big trout. But what exactly happens to the hatchery trout once they are released into the river? This spring, MassWildlife launched a study to get a better understanding of the survival and movement of stocked trout from month to month and from year to year. 

The Swift is bounded by the Quabbin Reservoir’s Winsor Dam to the north and by the Bondsville Dam about 5 ½ miles downstream. So, while some fish enter the reach from Quabbin or from the adjacent McLaughlin Hatchery and some escape over the Bondsville Dam, the study area is a mostly closed system. This means that biologists can estimate population size and learn about fish survival by conducting a series of mark-recapture surveys. MassWildlife biologists will mark every fish stocked into the Swift and then periodically sample the stream and record information on the fish they catch. This type of survey allows biologists to estimate fish populations throughout the year in an area where it is impractical or impossible to count each individual fish.

The fish will be marked in two ways. Biologists will use Visible Implant Elastomer (VIE)—a dye injected just below the skin—to tag trout and indicate the month in which they were stocked. For 2021, all VIE tags will be placed just behind the left eye and different colors will indicate the month the fish was stocked. Additionally, the adipose fins of fish stocked upstream of Route 9 will be clipped; fish stocked elsewhere will not be clipped. The adipose fin is a small fatty fin on the dorsal surface (back) of the fish. MassWildlife staff will use electrofishing equipment to sample the river about once a month for most of the year. This method briefly stuns fish so they can be easily netted, inspected, and then quickly released. By looking at the combination of markings, biologists can learn when and where a trout was stocked in the river compared to when and where it was re-captured.

Anglers will also be able to use the marking to learn about the fish they catch. A website has been launched with details about this ongoing project. Anglers and interested individuals can visit mass.gov/swift-trout to get a list of VIE tag and fin clip combinations that shows release dates and release location. A schedule of electrofishing sampling dates will also be available on the website. 

In time, study results will also be posted to mass.gov/swift-trout. Results from this study will provide valuable details about the short- and long-term survival of stocked brown and rainbow trout. As always, the goals of MassWildlife’s fisheries staff are to gain a better understanding of fish and fish ecology, share the information learned with the public, and provide exceptional opportunities for fishing and other outdoor recreation. It’s important to note that while some hatchery trout can survive year-round in deep ponds with cold water and some coldwater streams like the Swift River, MassWildlife’s stocking program is primarily designed as a put-and-take resource for anglers to enjoy catching trout in the hundreds of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams stocked statewide.

Attract birds without feeders

You don’t need a bird feeder to attract colorful and melodious birds to your yard or garden. Seed from bird feeders can draw the unwanted attention of squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, mice, rats, and even black bears. Providing natural food sources, water, and shelter can bring birds to your property this spring and throughout the year. 

Food

To attract birds naturally, first you need to attract insects. Birds, like the common chickadee, require native trees and plants close to their nest in order to find enough insects to feed their nestlings. To attract more birds to your back yard native fruit-bearing shrubs (like those listed below) are essential, both for the fruit and the insect fauna they support. 

Insect friendly and therefore bird friendly vegetation that you can plant in your own yard:  

·       Oaks—white oaks are the best species to promote native insects  

·       Black willow and pussy willow  

·       Black cherry and common chokecherry  

·       Birches  

·       Dogwoods  

·       Hollies  

·       Elderberry  

·       Mulberry  

·       Juniper  

·       Viburnums  

·       Shadbush/serviceberry/amalachier  

·       Blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, and aronia berry

A healthy mix of native vegetation will draw a variety of species to your yard. Native trees and shrubs that produce berries (like dogwoods, serviceberries, cherries, blueberry) provide fruit in summer and/or fall, and are much more nutritious (high in fats and lipids) than fruits of non-native plants. During the summer when birds are nesting, the young are fed almost exclusively invertebrates like caterpillars. Native plants support a much higher diversity and number of invertebrates than non-native plants. This is especially true with caterpillars, which are the preferred food for young songbirds. Growing native plants in your yard can be the best way to attract many species of birds to the area.

Are you looking to attract hummingbirds? Native species of wild bergamot and red columbine have colorful, tubular flowers that will entice hummingbirds and butterflies! You might also include trumpet honeysuckle, cardinal flower, spotted impatiens, Canada lily, and native azaleas and rhododendrons.

Find a list of native plants to attract birds to your yard by soil type and sunlight preference.

Water

Birds need water for drinking and bathing. To enhance your garden for birds, add a source of water for them like a birdbath or fountain. They are especially attracted to moving to dripping water. Ideally, the water level in artificial birdbaths should be no more than 2 inches deep. A gradual decrease in depth towards the edges allows birds of all sizes to drink and bathe in the depth they prefer. A water drip or wiggler may be added to create the sight and sound of moving water, while deterring mosquitoes. Water should be replaced weekly to keep it clean.

Shelter

Shelter is as critically important as food and water. Birds need a safe place to rest, preen their feathers, and escape when predators are present. Each night, birds settle into dense shrubs or coniferous trees to sleep. Providing these refuges in your yard is another way to attract birds. Consider adding wood or wicker bird houses for nesting in the summer and roosting during cold winter nights.

Additional tips

We all like to keep a well-maintained yard. But birds like things a little more on the wild side! Leave small piles of branches and leaves around your yard. These will attract ground-dwelling invertebrates—perfect for birds like American robins and northern flickers. The brush piles provide shelter for bird species like the Carolina wren. Decomposing piles will replenish nutrients to your soil over time. When possible, don't cut down dead trees, also called snags. Snags are favored foraging and nesting places for many species of birds.

2020 Sportfishing Award Program winners

MassWildlife’s Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program recognizes anglers who catch exceptional freshwater fish from Massachusetts waters that are open to the public. It’s time to celebrate the 2020 participants and winners!

2020 winners

Winners of the 2020 Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program have been announced! Angler of the Year awards are given in 3 categories to the person who catches the most species that meet the minimum weight or length requirements. Check out a list of the 2020 top catches by species.

Highlights:

  • Joshua Christman of Pittsfield is the Catch & Keep Adult Angler of the Year. He caught 14 of the 22 eligible species.
  • Philip Prieur of South Hamilton is the Catch & Keep Youth Angler of the Year. He caught 10 of the 22  eligible species.
  • Andrew Langley of Peabody and David Desimone of Amherst are the Catch & Release Anglers of the Year. Both Andrew and David caught 18 of 22 species.
  • 1 new state record was awarded in the Catch & Keep category.
  • 8 new state records were awarded in the Catch & Release category.​

There is plenty of time to get involved in 2021! Learn more about the Freshwater Sportfishing Awards Program and submit your catch at mass.gov/dfw/sportfishing-awards

Youth Artist from Hanson Wins Junior Duck Stamp Contest

Caleb Clemons, a homeschool student from Hanson, won Best of Show in the 2021 Massachusetts Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) Contest. His acrylic painting of American black ducks was selected from 134 entries. Clemons award-winning work will move on to the National JDS Contest. 

Students from kindergarten through grade 12 from across the Commonwealth submitted original works of art depicting waterfowl in appropriate wetland habitat, demonstrating both artistic talent and a knowledge of the value of wetlands for wildlife. In March, MassWildlife held the judging, at which time the top winning artists were selected. Combinations of the top artworks will be exhibited throughout Massachusetts in the coming year based on reopening guidelines for host sites.

The Massachusetts JDS Program is sponsored by MassWildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with support from the Massachusetts Sportsmen’s Council. Please support the JDS Program and wetland conservation by purchasing Junior Duck Stamps featuring national winners from previous years. Stamps can be purchased at duckstamp.com.

To learn more about the Massachusetts JDS Program, and to access the traveling exhibit schedule, visit mass.gov/dfw/jds.

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