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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Chickens in the Snow (Blog 384)

At 2:45 this morning, I woke up, looked out the window and saw snow falling, and knew what I had to do. Earlier this month, we had a wet, slushy snow, and the netting covering our two chicken runs collapsed, leaving our heritage Rhode Island Reds vulnerable to an owl or hawk attack.

Elaine and I spent an hour or so repairing the damage then. I figured it was better to arise in the wee hours than wait until dawn and try to repair the net. When I arrived inside the two runs, the netting was already badly sagging, so I as delicately as possible tapped the bottom of the netting with a broom to cause snow to cascade through the openings.

I'll go outside at dawn to do the broom tapping gambit again. I expect more such visits will be required during what appears will be a long, snow-filled day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Gobbling Intensity Increasing in Southwest Virginia (Blog 383)

What a difference a week makes here in Southwest Virginia in terms of gobbling intensity. Two weeks ago, a lone gobble every few mornings was the norm. Now, the "normal" progression of spring morning sounds is evident.

For example, this morning, the crows, as is typical in spring, were the first birds to really announce the dawn in a boisterous way. This seemed to wake up two gobblers behind my house, and they began gobbling every 45 or so seconds. I also noted that the two toms were on opposite side of our 38 acres in Botetourt County, perhaps because they have already endured several skirmishes with each other.

What I expect to happen next - perhaps in just a few days - is an outbreak of non-stop gobbling as one longbeard becomes consumed with the prospects of mating, which, in turn, sets several other gobblers off.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Woodcock Mating Season in Full Throttle in Southwest Virginia (Blog 382)

This morning at 5:45, I left our Botetourt County, Virginia house to walk and almost immediately heard the sounds of a male woodcock doing his mating aerial dance.  Soon afterwards, I heard another woodcock while I was walking up the driveway.  And about 100 yards into my walk, a third one was heard.

Next to hearing the sounds of gobblers in early spring, I love to hear the whistling and peents of woodcocks. Adding to the morning aura was snow flakes falling.  In the distance, it seemed like the surrounding mountains were enveloped in snow as well. The forecast is for snow at dawn on Monday.  I wonder if the woodcocks will persist in their mating rituals if snow falls?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

First Gobbling, First Woodcock (Blog 381)

Yesterday, February 28, brought the first gobble of the morning, here in Southwest Virginia. I was out walking when I heard a distant jake sound off.  Not quite believing my ears, I paused for several minutes, then yelped with my mouth. 

Nothing answered, so I resumed my walk feeling that I had misinterpreted what I thought I had heard. However, three minutes later, the jake gobbled again, and this time there was no mistaking the sound. I again yelped and again no response. Several minutes later, the young tom belted out one more gobble.

This morning brought a cool rain and 50 degree temperatures in Botetourt County. While I was tending to our chickens, I heard the distant sounds of a woodcock doing his aerial mating dance. Two sure signs of onrushing spring are gobbling toms and the return of woodcocks.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

No Gobbling Yet in the Southwest Virginia Mountains (Blog 380)

For the past week or so, I have been listening a little more intently to the beginning signs of spring as the morning temperatures have been in the 50s. Two days ago,  this winter/spring, I heard a song sparrow singing its mating song for the first time. Cardinals have already broken into song and mourning doves are likewise in full-blown mating mood.

Our two Rhode Island Red roosters have increased the intensity of their morning skirmishes, even though their respective domains are separated by a wire fence. The two roosters often fling themselves against the fence and give each other the evil eye in this battle for one upsmanship.

Still, though, I have not heard the first gobble on our 38 acres in Botetourt County. While I was tending the chickens this morning, two turkey hens began yelping and cutting, and I was sure that a tom would respond to that. But none did. It won't be long, though, because I have at least two longbeards that roost on our land.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

More Young Forests Needed in Virginia's National Forests (Blog 379)

This weekend, I am going hiking in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest with Wayne Thacker, chair of the Virginia Wildlife Habitat Coalition. This is a group from such Virginia  entities as the Bear Hunters Association, the Bowhunters Association, the Deer Hunters Association, the Hunting Dog Alliance, the State Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation State Leadership Team, the State Advisory Council of the Quality Deer Management Association, and representatives from two Virginia Ruffed Grouse Chapters. 

We will be talking about the need for the creation of more young forests on the GWJNF as part of a Virginia Wildlife magazine story I am working on. Many people, both hunters and non-hunters, do not realize the importance of young forests and early succession habitat for many species of game and non-game wildlife.

A good publication on this is Talking about Young Forests, A Communication Handbook. For more information, contact Thacker at

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Signs of Spring in Virginia (Blog 378)

It's not even mid-February yet, but I noticed an early sign of spring this week - a male cardinal singing in a lusty manner. Of course, cardinals are a year-round resident in Southwest Virginia, and they do sing year-round, which is unlike most songbirds.

Nevertheless, the duration of this particular bird's song was what made it different.  The cardinal, at dawn, launched into a full-throated outburst and kept up the music for quite some time. In a week or so, I wager, our local Carolina wren will begin doing the same, and I also expect to hear mourning doves singing soon as they are one of the first birds to build nests, around here usually in March.

I also expect the two turkey gobblers that have been roosting behind our house to become "restless" by early March. Then I will know for sure that spring is here.