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I would love to tell you some of the strange and amazing tales that have come to my attention this week — from a dog hammock to tongue tattooing to the guy arrested for illegally possessing a wild raccoon while riding his bike without a headlamp — but I must eschew all such shenanigans this week for I am absolutely flooded with questions.

Are you crazy? You can’t put a Christmas tree in a fireplace. Do you still have a house?? I know you don’t really do this. You are just trying to get someone to go off on you.

If that were the intention, I am apparently successful. However, I have always backed off watering the tree for three or four days before disposal, then use clippers to prune the branches into short pieces. These I feed into the fireplace one or two at a time, wait for the flare to subside, and then do another. Takes an hour or so because you have to go slowly but it leaves a nice fire going when the trunk is finally denuded and cut into pieces. It is surprisingly difficult to get the needles to burn, takes a bit of art.I was going to let you slide on something because you were clearly in some sort of psychological warp (when you recounted your dream sequence) BUT what is a gilliegaloo bird?

When I was quite young, maybe 4 or 5, I was given a little model made of seashells. It was a rather strange-looking, crane type of bird. The card with it said it was the gilliegaloo bird; an exceptional beast because it always flew backward, being more concerned with where it had been than where it was going. If you try the internet, you will find there is a store in Canada that gets all the press now — and even spells it wrong.

I have some fish questions. When do brook trout spawn, are they the same as speckled trout, is it true they are expanding their range, is it true they are not really trout but a species of minnow, are they really a saltwater fish that was stocked in fresh water?

That is a lot of questions in a small space. I shall try to be as parsimonious. Brook trout spawn in the fall when the stream temperatures drop below 52 degrees and the fall rains start. While my grandfather always referred to them as speckled trout, this designation is usually reserved for the southern subspecies. Throughout the south, speckled trout are a pretty homogeneous population, which makes them more susceptible to environmental changes.

Northern brook trout are found in a huge number of waters, each one with a specially evolved population, making them a bit more robust in their response to natural challenges. The aboriginal range of brook trout was the northeast corner of North America. They are the only native trout east of the Rockies. An ill-conceived venture in the late 1800s, called the American Acclimatization Society, sought to spread all species in America to all portions of America and managed to get brook trout populations growing in every state. However, throughout much of their native habitat, perhaps 90 percent, populations have declined as brush overhanging streams was cut, warming the water, and silt from roadways covered the rocky gravel needed for spawning.

Many steams, like Clendon Brook, renowned in early writings, now hold no wild populations of trout at all. The brook trout is not a true trout but it is a species of arctic charr, not a minnow. There are populations of brook trout that move downriver into salt water and return to fresh water to spawn. Called “salters” these fish often grow larger and heavier than their freshwater cousins. Did I get everything?

Why is my bird feeder full of honeybees kicking all the seed onto the ground?

They are hoping to raise baby bees. They are uninterested in the seed itself; they are collecting the dust on the outside. At this time of the year, the honeybees are gearing up for a major push on brood rearing so the hives will have a high population when the first spring flowers begin making nectar. The most important thing needed for brood rearing is a protein source. Generally, this is pollen but, at least until the skunk cabbage emerges, this is in real short supply at the end of winter.

The dust on black oil sunflower seeds is a product of the seeds grinding against each other; it is about the same consistency as pollen, and it is very high protein. The bees see this as a terrific resource, and once located, a great number of foragers will come to gather. If you look closely, you will see the dust being gathered on the bees’ “pollen baskets.” This is a set of curved hairs on their hind legs — the real name for the structures is corbicula. It is not just your birdfeeders that are being raided. They will also forage on grain storage facilities and work on sawdust from hardwood trees, in both cases still gathering the dust the materials carry.

Where have all the juncos gone? Some disease?

I hesitate to answer this since, when I told everyone to calm down in the fall that the birds had not disappeared just because they were not coming to feeders, I was treated most disagreeably. The most disagreeable of the folks have not apologized when, just like I said, the birds all came to the feeders once the real cold weather hit. The dark-eyed junco breeds in colder areas. There are a few birds that do not migrate north to breed but even these tend to seek out higher altitudes during the summer. So, your juncos have not “become extinct,” “been slaughtered” by something, or “died of a plague.” They are all doing just fine heading back to their breeding range. We will see them again at the end of the summer.

Even without messing around (too much) I am less than half way through the questions that have come in in the past couple of weeks. I will do an extra questions column in a week or two, promise!

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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