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A year to remember, or forget, outdoors.

Unusual weather made 2014 a challenging year outdoors. There seem to have been as many frustrations as rewards. We had a frigid winter that never loosened its icy grip, a cold spring, a cool summer, a brook-drying autumn, a cold November that promised early ice fishing and a warm December that thawed those hopes.

The brutal winter that began 2014 was reason for too many to stay inside, escape to Florida or joke about global warming. But even as our deepest Cape Cod trout ponds teasingly froze over briefly for the first time in several years and our 75 percent-filled reservoirs were poised to be topped-off from spring snow melt, much of the rest of the world wasn't joking.

From our food belt in southern California to the cattle fields of Texas, the lands were parched, and for most of the Southern Hemisphere, global warming, drought, and desertification were a clear reality. In the Arctic, concerns for walrus and polar bear rose as ice sheets melted, stranding both imperiled species in seas that continue to absorb heat and mask the reality of global warming.

There was no merciful January thaw. The mourning cloak butterflies that we hoped to see on rare warm days fluttering about and sipping sap from broken cherries, maples, and birches stayed chilled and immobile under their bark blankets.

Winter charter boats at sea were often forced to stay at the dock. While party boats out of Rhode Island intrepidly continued to go out at every opportunity for cod and hake, ice fishermen on the Cape Cod trout ponds were frustratingly being sabotaged. Nevertheless, Jon Morgan persevered like many local fishermen and landed a huge 29-inch brown trout from an unidentified Cape Cod pond.

Higher elevation Berkshire waters like Lake Buel, Cheshire Reservoir and Onota Lake held up much better during our weather's bi-polar vacillations. Big pike -- many exceeding 10 pounds -- were the reward. And local waters impressively produced, too. Lake Quinsigamond gave up a 17-pounder and Quaboag Pond yielded double-digit size pike up to 15 pounds. Pike shiners were selling for $18 a dozen.

The winter of 2013-14 was variably generous to birders providing the second biggest irruption of snowy owls ever recorded. The magnificent vole and mouse eaters of the Arctic -- most prominent at Logan Airport and Plum Island -- were scattered across the state and observed all the way down to Florida. But inland iced-over waters proved inhospitable to wintering waterfowl, and lower Christmas Bird Count numbers reflected those adverse conditions. Birders wanting to see waterfowl needed to go to the coast.

Winter was also cruel to sea duck hunters. A Brown University student drowned out of Fairhaven while hunting sea ducks from his small, light-weight kayak. A week later, two more drowned in high winds and brutal cold on the Westport River, where they set out in an undersized, 15-foot aluminum skiff. Their life-jacketless bodies were found washed ashore. Miraculously, a third companion survived submersion and hypothermia.

Winter was harsh on wildlife. Deep, crusty snow was particularly lethal to deer. But one species' misfortune can prove beneficial to another. Deer would sink in during pursuits by coyotes light enough to run quickly on top. They easily killed countless numbers of their prey often in their beds. I witnessed one such attack at Singletary, and sportsmen reported many other coyote kills across the county.

February ice fishing derbies, sportsmen's shows, and March sportsmen's club game dinners helped us celebrate the winter and its bounty. Soon after, the maple sugaring season would prove a bust.

In April and May, shad fishermen converged on the Connecticut River. The fish-lift in Holyoke transported 370,506 American shad, 22,136 sea lamprey, 647 blueback herring, 410 gizzard shad, and 26 salmon up and over the Holyoke dam to help them reach their spawning grounds.

Bad pollination conditions would lead to a poor apple crop and a highly variable acorn drop.

During the spring hunt, 2,550 turkeys were harvested, while a June census revealed 48 eagle nests across the Commonwealth.

Because of warming temperatures and consequent irruptions of moose ticks, the New Hampshire moose population, which once numbered 7,500, plummeted 40 percent. Summer tourists had more difficulty observing moose up north and hunters had permits cut 60 percent to only 275. Maine moose numbers stayed normal.

With colder than normal ocean waters, fishing for stripers was late and highly disappointing in both Cape Cod Bay and around Chatham. Charter boat captains and commercial fishermen were pulling their hair out to get into the kind of action they've had in past years. When the big stripers did show up in the Bay, they were concentrated, largely nocturnal and feeding heavily in surprisingly shallow water close to shore. Those who figured out the secret made a lot of money -- and lost a lot of sleep. Fortunately, the Canal was frequently on fire.

During the cool, dry summer that would negatively affect foliage later, shellfish were way down, too. Many soft-shelled clammers in Barnstable Harbor just gave up. Fortunately, the lobster season was excellent. My son and I had one of our best years.

In September, a new record of 202 black bears was set during the early season harvest while false albacore and squeteague fishermen had one of the best seasons in years. But the September mushroom season was a huge disappointment thanks to little rain and colder temperatures. Hen-of-the-woods/maitake (Grifola frondosa), porcini (Boletus edulis), horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) bear's head tooth (Hericium coralloides) and beefsteak mushroom (Fistulina hepatica) were scarce. Even noted mycologist Russ Cohen had trouble finding them. So when Grafton's David Stephens and Marge Albright left a big clump of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms at our door for my wife to make her famous bisque, I was thrilled. Fortunately, the hurricane season ignored us.

Our foliage season up north was early and, for the most part, disappointingly brief. We lacked the sudden autumn freeze there to help synchronize a brilliant show.

In October and November, bird hunters were ecstatic as District Staff stocked about 13,000 pheasants in Worcester County. On the other hand, low water delayed the salmon run at Wachusett and threatened native brook trout populations. A rash of tree stand and trail camera thefts were reported, and illegal ATV drivers did significant habitat damage -- again.

State Rep. George Peterson, the assistant House minority leader, and State Sen. Stephen Brewer -- two of the greatest sportsmen, wildlife and open-space supporters we've ever had in the legislature -- sadly announced their retirement. And the proposal to have Sunday bow hunting on private land with owner's permission didn't pass.

But bluefin tuna finally started hitting in big numbers after making us wonder if they'd ever show up. One of the biggest bites in decades occurred on Jeffrey's Ledge, the wonderful underwater promontory that extends from northern Massachusetts to Portland, Maine.

For the second time in ten years, the Humane Society of the United States spent huge sums of money to try to end the Maine's tradition of bear hunting. While Massachusetts has a burgeoning bear population of about 4,000, Maine has about 30,000. Biologists need the hunting community to control it. Residents largely regarded the Humane Society's effort as being instigated by big-pocketed, interfering outsiders out of touch with scientific management and Maine traditions. Maine voters rejected their proposed ban.

Despite terrible weather -- winds, rains, and cold -- deer hunters had another big harvest similar to last year's. The Quabbin hunt once again clearly demonstrated how concentrated hunters could effectively harvest sufficient numbers of deer to reduce forest damage in total safety. And Stephen Reese took an enormous buck in Sutton that green-scored an amazing 153 Boone & Crockett. My best buck was more Betty Crocker in comparison.

An unprecedented number of jellyfish-feeding sea turtles drifting back towards Florida for the winter were stranded in Cape Cod Bay. Most would have died of hypothermia, but volunteers and professionals brought them in for rehabilitation and later transportation south to survive.

As ice fishermen waited to walk on hard water, December temperatures reached 60 degrees, delaying their sport.

Abroad, rhino, tiger, elephant, and pangolin populations plummeted as international poachers -- largely funded by China and Vietnam -- reaped huge rewards.

So much of the unknown lies ahead for sportsmen, naturalists and wildlife in 2015. There will surely be disappointments, changing conditions -- and great rewards. Whatever the weather, let's make a resolution to get outdoors and take on the challenge.

Contact Mark Blazis at
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1ME
Date:Dec 30, 2014
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