Drawing upon the secrets of old-timers
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the concept of preserving traditional wildlife corridors, which have been defined as “avenues along which wide-ranging animals can travel, plants can propagate, genetic interchange can occur, populations can move in response to environmental changes and natural disasters, and threatened species can be replenished from other areas.”
Wildlife corridors can help to reduce the impact of agriculture and human settlements on biodiversity by allowing flora and fauna to move freely between remaining habitat areas.
Often, with development there comes a reduction and fragmentation of historic habitat that has been acknowledged as a primary cause of the decline of many species worldwide.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which has offices in Saranac Lake has been widely recognized for their work in this specialized field of study. The organization’s scientists have dealt with species ranging from pronghorn antelope in Wyoming to the Bicknell’s thrush on Whiteface.
Wildlife corridors, also known as green corridors, are often identified by distinct landscape features or vegetative cover that can provide safe cover, with adequate food and water to protect wildlife populations that may otherwise be separated by human activities or man-made development, such as roads or logging.
Many of the traditional wildlife corridors have developed in areas where the natural landscape provided for the safe and effective exchange of wildlife populations, which helped to prevent the negative effects of in-breeding or the reduction of genetic diversity that can result when populations are isolated.
However, wildlife corridors are not limited strictly to a singular species. Traditional travel routes are also utilized by a wide variety of reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects, including snapping turtles, brook trout and Atlantic salmon as well as numerous species of birds and butterflies.
In our region, wildlife corridors provide safe travel routes for chimney swifts, peregrine falcons, loons and more. In times of heavy snow, whitetail deer will travel great distances to find protection from the elements often in dense cedar swamps, which are known as deer yards.
Every region of the country has such distinct natural features that are favored by wildlife; however, as the supply of new outdoorsmen continues to leave many blank spots on the roster of sportsmen, many of these traditional haunts and corridors are being lost to memory.
In fact, the term wildlife corridors is really just a fancy term for a deer runway, or a fox run of which nearly every hunting camp crew has a few.
However, I’ve often wondered what becomes of the Further Lost Runway, the Big Rocky, Buffalo Head Pass or Three Buck Notch when the last member of camp finally hangs up his hunting boots? In many cases, the knowledge of hundreds of identified wildlife corridors is lost forever.
A similar lack of loss is evident on the waters, where prominent physical features of migration, breeding and travel are even less apparent. It is easy to understand because fish don’t leave any tracks, and they are much tougher to see during a migration than a whitetail, a wood turtle or a Canada goose.
On the rivers and streams, trout and salmon often seek sanctuary in areas of undercut banks, or in the protection of rocks, log jams and similar debris, while on migration.
Fish will also move to locations where there are cold water seeps or underwater springholes, especially during the heat of the summer when water temperatures soar and dissolved oxygen content diminishes.
Fresh, cold water from springs, seeps and small, tumbling mountain brooks are the equivalent of oxygen masks for many cold-water species. However, such refuge areas are not easy to locate.
Most anglers discover them as a result of experimentation or serendipity. They stumble upon them, but far too many depart with each passing angler.
Seeps can often be recognized by examining the contours of the local topography. If there is a steep ravine that runs from the top of a nearby mountain or hill right to the waters edge, and it doesn’t deliver any evident surface water, it’s a safe bet there is a nearby seep underwater. These areas often provide ideal conditions for refuge and breeding purposes.
I once discovered the location of a historic underwater spring on a fabled trout pond by accident. It occurred while I was trolling for brookies and I noticed a small metal bucket that was anchored just a few feet below the water’s surface.
Attached to the bucket were a few short lengths of rope, and each had a brass clip, which I soon connected to my bow line.
At the time, I hadn’t had a bite in two days of tossing a wide assortment of flies, lures and jigs. It was the heat of the summer, and a bright sun had been baking me for the entire trip. I didn’t really expect much to happen, but the underwater tether provided me with an opportunity to take a break from a long morning of fishless trolling.
As a result, I was shocked when a fish hit my spoon on the first cast. And they kept on hitting.
I stayed anchored for most of the afternoon, and I caught fish consistently. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
I measured the water temperature at nearly 74 degrees. However, at 15 feet of depth under the boat, the water was a steady 58 degrees. I had found the “honey hole,” and it was committed to memory.
Springholes on a trout pond often remain a closely guarded secret, and any angler with such knowledge has a distinct advantage over all others. However, in recent years I have learned the single most important lesson in my long career in the woods and on the waters. And it is a secret to success that I’ll gladly share, so listen closely.
The single-best source of information on the location of lost deer runways, abandoned farms with apple trees that still remain and the “pinch points” where the big bucks always flee can be found in any of the local nursing homes or retirement villages.
These places are also a great place to find out about the springholes, the underwater ledges, the seeps and the lost beaver dams that have provided fishing pleasure for generations of sportsmen and women.
Best of all, the information is honestly delivered, often with a touch of humor and generous portions of excitement and anticipation.
Typically, these experienced outdoorsmen and woman expect nothing in return, however, I always make it a point to return with a few photos of fish and game harvested at their old familiar haunts.
The experience is always rewarding, and even if it doesn’t pan out with anything to toss in the pot, the day is always fulfilling. It is always an honor to know that I’ve had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of experience. I’ve learned as much about life as I have about wildlife.
When the day finally comes and I’m too old to get out anymore, I sure hope there are some young hunters and anglers left around to visit some of the honey holes I’ve discovered over the years.