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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virginia's Spring Gobblers...Fascinating Creatures (Blog 183)

As I anxiously await the start of Virginia's spring gobbler season on April 12, I am spending many pleasurable mornings listening to the toms and hens behind our house.  This week several events took place that simply amazed me.

Tuesday morning was bitter cold with wind chill temperatures in the single digits and with snow falling.  Yet an hour before sunrise, I heard a hen yelping in a tree while I was doing my morning three-mile walk.  When I returned from my ramble, a hen (apparently the same one) was still yacking it up in a tree behind the house, and a gobbler had joined her in greeting the dawn.

The old boy was so close to our back yard that I could feel his "rumblings." Later two more mature males began to sound off, as did our rooster Boss who seemed irritated that other birds were as wound up about sunrise as he was.

Wednesday morning was another cold, blustery day but that did not stem the ardor of our turkeys as more gobbling and yelping was heard.  Thursday morning, though, was clear, calm, and much warmer, yet not a single gobble or yelp was heard.

How does one explain that?

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Gobble of the Spring (Blog 182)

Wednesday morning of this week, the weather was cold, gray, a little breezy, and a chilly rain was softly falling.  It was not the type of morning when I would expect to hear the first gobble of the spring here in the Catawba Creek Valley in Southwest Virginia, but the toms had something else in mind.

I had just let our Rhode Island Reds out of their hen house, and as usual, our alpha male Boss came bursting out the door.  He emitted a crow, a hen some 100 yards behind the house yelped, and a tom gobbled.  Did Boss or the hen set off the gobbler?

It really doesn't matter for a few seconds later, a second tom gobbled and then hens began yelping in response. Thursday morning, the turkeys were once again roosted behind our house, but just hen talk took place.  Then on Friday morning, the woods were silent once more.

The gobbling is not predictable, but this week is the one when the monarchs began to sound off.  I can hardly wait for the Virginia season to begin.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Virginia Muskie Fishing on the James River (Blog 181)

Guide Britt Stoudenmire, who operates New River Outdoors and Southern Muskie Guide Service
( held his annual fishing event for his guides and friends this weekend on the James.  I fished with guide Richard Furman ( of Twin River Outfitters in Buchanan.
Throughout the day, Richard and I and struggled to catch smallmouths, never really figuring out where the smallies were holding or what they were feeding on with the bluebird sky conditions prevailing.  But the most interesting aspect of the day was the presence of muskies.
Richard landed a 36-incher (shown below), and I managed to catch a 26-inch fish.

The conventional wisdom states that "muskies are a fish of a thousand casts," but more and more on the James that is not true.  I have fished the James since 1969, have written a book on the waterway (The James River Guide) and live on a tributary of the river.  I have never seen the muskies so abundant in all that time.

I am very curious how the muskie fishing will be this summer.  Meanwhile, anglers can't go wrong by hiring Richard or Britt to take them fishing. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring on the Brink (Blog 180)

This morning during a break from Elaine and I watching Mad Men, which is part of our Sunday morning quiet time, I went out to the henhouse to let down the gangplank. Our alpha rooster Boss sprinted out to the plank and began a paroxysm of non-stop crowing to greet the dawn.

Boss senses, I believe, as do all creatures that spring is on the brink.  We had two snowfalls this past week here in Southwest Virginia, but they weren't "serious snows." After the precipitation stopped, the snow quickly melted and the temporary inclement conditions couldn't stop the wildlife and their spring restiveness. 

Early to mid-March is a transition month for wildlife, as the green up has not quite begun and
winter is not quite over.  I have noticed that the songbirds have commenced singing, not just the usual early singers such as cardinals, Carolina wrens, and mourning doves, but also field sparrows, tufted titmice, and white-breasted nuthatches.

I have yet to hear my first gobble from a wild turkey, but it is just a matter of time.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Visit to Vintage Virginia Apples (Blog 179)

Elaine and I just spent Friday evening and part of Saturday at Vintage Virginia Apples and Albemarle Cider Works in North Garden, Virginia.  While there on an assignment from Back Home magazine, we were fortunate to discuss heritage apples with Tom Burford, author of the new book Apples of North America, Charlotte Shelton, who along with her family operates Vintage Virginia Apples, and Richard Marini, department head for the department of horticulture at Penn State. 

We have been fans of heritage apples, those varieties that our forefathers grew in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and up until World War II around the country.  Sadly, many of those varieties are no longer present in most of the country.

But those varieties live again in Tom's book and at places like the Shelton's.  We purchased a Black Twig while at the Shelton's and planted it in our backyard as soon as we arrived home Saturday afternoon.  The Black Twig is my favorite apple, it is the best I have ever had for pies and eating out of hand.  In four or five years, we hope to harvest our first apples from the tree.

For more information on Vintage Virginia Apples,