Search This Blog

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Late Fall/Early Winter Birding (Blog Nine)

Whether I am hiking, hunting, fishing, or just out walking, I really enjoy bird watching during the late fall and early winter period.  I especially enjoy observing bird behavior and identifying what foods the creatures are eating.  Today while walking, for example, I observed Robins dining on holly berries - a fruit that many avians, including Robins, won't consume until the weather becomes much colder.  Many people incorrectly believe that Robins fly southward for the winter, but in many areas, including Southwest Virginia where I live, this thrush merely transitions from being yard and field birds to spending much of their time in woodlots or forests that border fields.

Sometimes I see birds that I can't identify.  For instance, last Saturday while on a Monroe County, West Virginia mountain I spotted a warbler-sized bird flitting about in a low growing tree.  The bird featured a dark bib like that of a Mourning Warbler or a Connecticut Warbler, yet given the range of these two species such a spotting would have been highly unlikely.  The former winters in Central and South America, the latter in South America.  I would really appreciate it if someone could send me a best guess on what species I observed.

On Thanksgiving Day, I witnessed a Hermit Thrush, my first of the season.  This winter visitor was uttering its "chuck"  call note and cocking its reddish tail.  Sometimes in very late winter, I will be fortunate enough to hear the Hermit Thrush's flutelike mating song.

One of my favorite migratory birds to see and hark to this time of year is a White-throated Sparrow.  In the mountains of Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia, this sparrow usually begins to arrive some time in October.  By late November, vast numbers of this species are present, often found feeding in brushy thickets.  I love to listen to its "Old Sam Peabody" song.

And yesterday while cutting firewood behind our house, I watched a Brown Creeper performing its "hitching" gambit on a tree.  Who knows what I will see today.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve Dinner (Blog Eight)

A new tradition in our family is for our daughter Sarah and her husband David to come to Elaine's and my house for a wild game dinner the evening before Thanksgiving Day.  The next day David and I arise early to hunt in Craig County and then Sarah and David go to his parents for Thanksgiving lunch.
Today (Sunday) Elaine has planned out the main part of the menu: Wild Turkey Leg Soup and Venison Potpie.  I am lobbying for cherry pie (from berries picked from our organic cherry tree back in May) but Elaine is advocating for a more traditional dessert (pumpkin or butternut pie).  This seems to be a win-win scenario for us both.
Many people roast wild turkey breasts and legs, but doing so, in my opinion, leaves the meat very dry.  A better option is to marinate the breasts and grill them and to turn the legs into soup.
Now it's Elaine's turn
I agree with Bruce that that soup is the proper venue for turkey legs.  I tried many different preparations before settling on this recipe.
Wild Turkey Leg Soup
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 turnip, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 celery stalks, diced
Other mixed vegetables as desired
2 cups cooked, diced turkey
2 quarts chicken or turkey broth
1 onion, chopped
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the diced potatoes, turnip, carrots, and celery in 2 quarts chicken or turkey broth.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain, reserving the liquid and setting the vegetables aside.  In the same kettle melt the butter and sauté the onion until tender. Stir in flour.  Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved broth, stirring constantly until thickened.  Gently stir in cooked vegetables and diced turkey.  Add the remaining reserved liquid, a cup at a time, until the soup is the desired consistency.  Peas, lima beans, corn, cabbage, or other vegetables on hand may be added as well.  Yield:  8-10 servings.
We will post a picture of our dinner on Wednesday evening.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Praise of Fall Turkey Hunting (Blog Seven)

This past Saturday was opening day of the Virginia general firearms season, yet I spent most of the day turkey hunting in Monroe County, West Virginia.  As much as I enjoy deer hunting, no autumn pastime means as much to me as pursuing turkeys does.

My first fall turkey hunting escapade was in 1986 when Jim Clay of Perfection Turkey Calls took me afield.  Jim called in a trio of jakes, and I became so nervous that I fired at - and missed - all three birds.  That humiliation led me to become consumed with how to become a successful turkey hunter - a passion that still continues today.

During my West Virginia outing Saturday, I visited four separate Monroe farms, plus my own land in the Gap Mills area.  I walked up and down several mountains, checked for birds in creek drainages and in deep hollows, searched every oak flat that I came across, yet never heard or saw a bird the entire day.

No matter, next Saturday, which will be the last day of West Virginia's season, will once again find me on a Mountain State peak at dawn, where I will be awaiting and hoping for the first tentative yelps and clucks of dawn.  If I hear turkey talk on the roost, I will run to the site where I will attempt to scatter the assemblage. Then I will try to call the birds in, using my best kee-kee runs (the sound that the jakes and jennies utter when they have been separated from the main flock). If I am fortunate enough to call in and kill a bird, my family and I will dine on it for Thanksgiving.

Today, both spring gobbler and deer hunting have eclipsed fall turkey hunting in popularity.  That's truly a shame because the latter challenges me like no other hunting pursuit.  Perhaps you should give fall turkey hunting a try.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Living off the Fatta of the Land (Blog Six)

As a high school English teacher in Botetourt County, Virginia, one of my favorite books to teach is John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN.  An important passage in this classic is when Lennie talks about the joys of living off "the fatta of the land."  As a deer hunter, I well know what that means.

Saturday afternoon in Franklin County during Virginia's early muzzleloading season, I killed a deer, so during much of Sunday Elaine and I butchered the whitetail.  If you have never butchered an animal, doing so is a fascinating experience.  Elaine and I have now reduced nine whitetails to venison over the past three autumns, and we now have a much better idea of how to go about the skinning process, remove the loin, rump, shoulder, and neck meat, and package the meat so that it freezes properly. 

We also have a much better concept of how Americans in centuries past lived, that is, how hunting and butchering made them closer to the land.  Elaine and I experience such great satisfaction in supplying our family with food...from beginning to end - no need for us to go to a supermarket for meat.

Today for my school lunch, I am dining on deer burger and deer heart sandwich from the whitetail killed Saturday.  Also in my lunch box is paw paw bread (see earlier blog) that comes from the fruit of paw paws gathered earlier this autumn.  Surely this is what Lennie meant about the joys of living off the land.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Before Sunrise (Blog Five)

This morning I went muzzleload hunting before school.  Sometimes I find it hard to explain to non-hunters how much I enjoy arising at 4:30, eating breakfast, leaving home at 5:30, and arriving in the woods around 6:15.  Then spending another hour waiting for the sun to emit enough light so that I can possibly see a deer approaching.

Under an ebony sky, I thoroughly relished the opportunity to lie on my back and view the moon, stars, and planes.  I picked out Mars and the Big Dipper and around 6:30, a jet flew low over the mountain.  I remember thinking what would be the reaction of a primitive human from eons ago if he saw a light streaking across the heavens like the jet was doing.  Surely, he would have thought that his deity or deities were either very angry or coming to visit him.

At 7:18, there was finally enough light for me to shoot if a deer approached...but none did.  At 8:00 A.M., it was time to leave for school.  No success in hunting, but a grand morning, as always, to be outside.