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Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Birds, Snakes, and Skinks in and around Our Virginia Home (Blog 340)

There are things that seem to happen during the late spring every year at our Botetourt County, Virginia home.  A few days ago, the first copperhead of the season lay sunning next to our front stoop.  A few days later, a black rat snake visited our sundeck, perhaps lured by phoebes that had been nesting under our eaves.

When I went outside to take pictures of the rat snake, the young phoebes exploded from the nest. Had they randomly picked that moment to leave forever their first home, or had I, or the black rat snake, accelerated their desire to depart? It is one of the mysteries of nature, no doubt.

A few days later, the skinks started sunning themselves on the front stoop, and Elaine began warning me that they were not to come into the house - as is their habit several times each spring and summer. I am not quite sure how to keep a skink out of a house, as these lizards invariable make their way inside every year.

The natural world is often just outside our front and back doors if we will take the time to look.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Virginia Gobblers Remain Silent (Blog 339)

Although I have tagged out on Virginia turkeys for the season, I still am going to listen for birds behind our house every morning.  I have not heard any toms all week whereas previous weeks I heard as many as four.

Of course, some of those toms may have been killed on the adjacent farms and the rainy, cold weather probably has something to do with the lack of gobbling.  More rain is forecast for the next three days, and I would not be optimistic about hearing any gobblers during that type of weather.

Here's my prediction. I believe the weather will change next week, and there will be intense gobbling from multiple toms next week in many places including our woodlot and around Virginia and West Virginia.  Of course, the seasons will be over in both states, but such is life and the vagaries of the spring some years.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Most Beautiful Bird in the Spring Gobbler Woods (Blog 338)

Last Friday, while turkey hunting in West Virginia, I heard my first scarlet tanager of the year.  Stopping hunting for a while, I tried to spot the bright red body and black wings of this typical late arriving migratory bird.  But I could not, so I continued on my way.

Sunday while hosting friend Doak Harbison and my son Mark on my family's Sinking Creek land in Craig County, a scarlet tanager suddenly flew down from its typical tree tops habitat and lit on a branch at eye level.  Doak and Mark had never seen a tanager before and wanted to know what it was.  The scarlet tanager definitely has the ability to dazzle.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Birding Great, Turkey Hunting Poor on West Virginia Hunts (Blog 337)

I've spent the last two mornings chasing gobblers in Monroe County, West Virginia.  Friday, I didn't see or hear any birds and on Saturday, I heard only two toms and both were well off the property and quickly stopped gobbling.

However, one of the great things about being outdoors in the spring is listening to and observing songbirds.  I heard my first scarlet tanager, hooded warbler, ovenbird, and rose-breasted grosbeak of the year.  And I watched for quite a while a black-and-white-warbler hitching around a tree and looking for insects. I'll try again in a few days.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Success in the Virginia Spring Gobbler Woods (Blog 336)

After hunting Virginia's spring gobblers for ten straight days during the time I was on break from school, I was a little frustrated about my inability to call in and kill a time.  I had spent five of those days on Elaine's and my land in the Sinking Creek Valley of Craig County, last Monday making the fifth visit.

As I was leaving the property for the day and walking down the mountain, I decided to yelp one last time, and sometimes that last yelp can be a big deal.  For a gobbler answered about 300 yards away. I set up quickly and for the next 75 minutes, the tom answered sporadically.

Then, suddenly or not so suddenly, given the nature of turkeys, he was standing 40 yards from me, peering down the mountain toward me.  I gave him a few more coaxing calls when he seemed unsure of whether to walk toward me - then in he came. He was a typical two-year-old tom with 4/5-inch spurs and the standard nine-inch beard. Gone was the frustration from the previous days.  I'll concentrate now on tagging a West Virginia tom.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Racket in the Virginia Spring Gobbler Woods (Blog 335)

This morning while pursuing gobblers in Craig County, Virginia, I debarked from my car about an hour before sunrise.  After walking up the mountain for about 10 minutes, I made a barred owl call and, by my count, I heard six different coyotes yipping.

That caused, by my count, four barred owls to start calling which resulted in, by my count, seven different gobblers sounding off.  It was the most racket I have ever heard while spring gobbler hunting and it was still well before sunrise.

The gobblers and owls kept hammering at each other for another 30 minutes.  But by 7:00 or so, the woods was quiet and stayed that way, except for a few gobbles, the rest of the morning.

I have been out seven straight mornings in Virginia and have heard gobblers every morning but have yet to see one.  On my annual Tennessee hunt the first weekend in April, I only saw one gobbler in three days.  Fortunately, I killed him, but my tally of seeing just one tom in ten days is more than frustrating.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Best Birthday Present Ever: Carolina Wins National Championship (Blog 334)

This week I turned the momentous age of 65, but what I always will remember about this week was University of North Carolina winning the national championship for the sixth time and for the fifth time since I have been a fan.

I started rooting for UNC in 1966 when my sister Janice and I decided to pick a college basketball team as our favorite and have remained a hardcore fan ever since.  When I was growing up, Dean Smith was a role model for me and has remained so during my career as a teacher.  Coach Smith's precepts on how to treat people, an emphasis on working hard and playing by the rules, and always being on time and trying your best have always meant a great deal to me.

So when UNC went on an 8-0 run to win the NCAA championship Monday night, I told Elaine what I wanted for my birthday - a book covering the 2016-7 season - hopefully there will be one.