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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.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Signs of Spring -Bear Wrecks Compost Bin (Blog 333)

Signs of spring are all around Elaine's and my Botetourt County, Virginia home.  A winter visitor, a hermit thrush, is singing his mating song, a mockingbird is in full throat, and the mourning doves are already mating.

But a sure sign of spring is our local bears coming out of hibernation.  Yesterday, we were greeted with the sight of a bruin wrecking our compost bin, emptying the contents and pushing/shoving the bin about 10 yards into the woods.

We won't use the compost bin again until December when winter sets in.  Then make sure that its contents are spread earlier next March.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Two Weeks before Virginia's Spring Gobbler Opener (Blog 332)

The two weeks  before Virginia's spring gobbler season begins, I think, is when a season is made.  This is the time when scouting takes place, and I check out farms and national forest land where gobblers may be.

The first week is all about finding the gobblers, the second about determining which ones are more likely to respond to calling.  Tomorrow, Saturday, I'll visit the first place on my list, some property in northern Botetourt County.  I also have scheduled visits to Craig and Franklin counties in the coming days.  By the opener, I should have a good idea where my chances for success are highest.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gobbling on a Snowy, Virginia Morning (Blog 331)

Tuesday morning here in Botetourt County, Virginia, I didn't have school as some snow fell, the winds were gusty, and the temperature plummeted into the single digits.  Yet, as I did my morning chores of taking care of our chickens, I heard a gobbler sound off in the midst of the snow, wind, and frigid temperatures.

Why would a tom be gobbling in absolutely terrible conditions?  On our land, I've heard gobblers gobbling during summertime afternoons, wintertime cold fronts, and rainy fall days. Turkeys never cease to amaze me concerning why they do what they do.

I've also not heard gobblers gobbling during absolutely glorious spring mornings when all the conditions were perfect and even when the hens were raising a ruckus on the roost.  It is simply a mystery.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Emerald Ash Borer and Ash Trees (Blog 330)

It's a cold March Saturday here in Botetourt County, Virginia, and I am preparing to go outside and cut down ash trees.  In the current issue of the QDMA magazine, Quality Whitetails, I have a story on how the emerald ash borer has devastated the ash trees in this country and such is certainly the case on our 38 acres.

Almost every ash on our land is sick, dying, or already dead, and I suspect the few that are not have the EAB inside them, just waiting for warmer weather to do their deadly work.  Most of our ashes live in our creek bottom, but there are a fair number in our hardwood hollow and one recently cut one was in our backyard.

It is a small comfort that the ashes will be firewood for years to come, but it is a tragedy that they will all soon  be dead.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Early Spring Wildlife Habitat Projects (Blog 336)

After being sick the past two weekends, I was finally able to start my spring wildlife habitat improvement projects on our 38-acres in Botetourt County, Virginia.  I started off the weekend Friday after school by spraying multi-flora rose and cutting and splitting wood.

Then Saturday, I sprayed more invasive species and planted clover in the upper food plot. Topping things off was a great meal, courtesy of Elaine, of deer burgers, baked potatoes, and blackberry cobbler.

  On the agenda for Sunday is to plant Yukon Gold potatoes and cut more wood.  I may be able to do some Timber Stand Improvement projects, too.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

First Gobbling of the Virginia Spring (Blog 335)

Thursday morning, I heard my first gobble of the spring while I was tending to the chickens.  The week before, I had witnessed the return of the male woodcocks and their mating dances, so I knew the tom turkeys would be expressing their virility soon.

What does it all mean? Well, to the male turkeys and woodcocks, I supposed their vocal outbursts mean the world.  To the females they are trying to impress, I would guess it means very little.  But that will all change in short order. In a few weeks, the ardor of the males will be matched, to a  degree, by that of the females.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Edith and Mary Square Off (Blog 334)

With our heritage Rhode Island Red chickens, Elaine's task is to name the hens.  With our flock, she decided to have a Downton Abbey theme naming our hens Mary, Violet, Edith and Daisy.  In a case of the chicken yard imitating life, Mary lately has been picking on Edith, running her away from the feeder and waterer.

I can understand that as chickens have a pecking order that must be settled among themselves.  But Mary has taken to running Edith out of the hen house at night when the hens and their rooster Al are trying to fly up to the roost.  This is unacceptable as Elaine and I have to wait long minutes in the dark for Mary to stop the bullying.

Tonight, I became weary of Mary running Edith out.  So I picked up Mary, put her in the yard, put Edith in the hen house, and then removed the gangplank running to the house.

Now it was Mary's turn to panic as she was on the outside wanting in.  She was unable to fly up to the door. I let Edith become settled inside then I put Mary inside.  Hopefully, I will only have to do this a few more times before the nightly nonsense stops.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Persimmon Bread on a February Saturday Night (Blog 333)

Back in the fall, Elaine and I gathered persimmons one cold afternoon.  Elaine made cookies and bread from our haul, and we ate the cookies over the next few days or so.  But the persimmon bread we froze for a winter weekend.

There is a joy in life based around anticipation of eating good things one day in the future. So we picked this weekend to reheat the bread and enjoy the especial nature of persimmon bread - a very dark bread with the sweet taste of persimmons and the nuttiness of walnuts proving a tasty tandem. It was a very fitting dessert for dinner, but I also confess that I had some for breakfast, too.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Planning a Winter Saturday (Blog 332)

With Virginia's turkey season now over, it's time to move on to other Saturday wintertime pursuits. Tomorrow I plan to spend much of the daylight period in the hollow behind my house. I need to cut up a massive chestnut oak limb that fell, a black oak tree that was cut down, plus turn a downed black locust into firewood.

After I finish work with the chainsaw, the mall will be required to reduce the wood into servicable firewood-sized chunks. If the weather turns warm in the afternoon, I might want to still hunt for squirrels through the woodlot.

As I write this, Elaine is making venison soup and perhaps I can prevail upon her to bake a wild blackberry pie to go with it.  An evening spent with her by the woodstove and dining on this type of food would be an evening well spent.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Success in the Virginia Turkey Woods (Blog 331)

I decided to go turkey hunting after school today, as Virginia's winter season ends this Saturday, and I still had an unpunched tag.  Honestly, with the hatch being less than stellar and with an abundance of acorns, I was not expecting to be successful.  Most of my hunts this fall/winter have resulted in my not seeing any turkeys.

But lo and behold, I emitted some hoarse kee-kee runs and a flock of longbeards ambled in.  His picture is below.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rhode Island Reds Sick, but now Recovering (Blog 330)

Several weeks ago, I wrote that our young flock of Rhode Island Reds were staying inside during the recent snowstorm.  At first, Elaine and I thought they were just scared of their first snow, and perhaps they were, but developments now make us thing something else was in play.

When the harsh weather was still going on, we looked into the coop one day and saw a hen whose eye was swollen shut.  She was also very lethargic and continued to grow weaker.  Eventually, we had to put her down.

Then our cockerel Al began to have trouble walking as did one of the hens.  We eventually had to purchase an anti-inflamatory from a vet to help rejuvenate them.  Both Al and the hen are doing much better now, and we hope they can rejoin the flock next week.

The next time we have a bitterly cold spell, we are going to monitor the hen house more closely.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

No Luck with Virginia's Winter Turkeys, but the Birdwatching was Great (Blog 329)

Today, Virginia's winter turkey season began, and I heard a flock on the roost behind my house at dawn.  I was only about 75 yards from their roost site which was on a creek ridge.  Knowing that if I tried to scatter the flock, the birds would simply fly across the creek onto a neighbor's land, I decided to sit tight.

Unfortunately, after fly down, I heard nothing and thinking the birds had moved downstream, as is their usual habitat, I decided to loop around them and see if I could position myself in the direction that the flock was travelling. When I arose to do so, several seconds later I ran right into the flock, which then flew across the creek.  If I had chosen to sit still, would the birds have walked right to me?  Who knows with turkeys.

While trying to call the flock back across the creek, which, predictably ended in failure, I saw several interesting songbirds: brown creepers and golden-crowned kinglets.  They were in one of those winter mixed flocks that also included Carolina chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and white-breasted nuthatches.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Rhode Island Reds in the Snow (Blog 328)

Five inches of snow fell here in Botetourt County, Virginia today.  We have two flocks of heritage Rhode Island Reds, and they live in adjacent runs.  The flock we call the "Old Reds" are a year-and-a-half old and, today, seemed to remember snow from last winter.

They stayed in their hen house until it was warmer in mid-morning, and then everybody ventured out to eat snow in order to consume their water.  Elaine had placed a heated waterer in the corner of the run, but, as was true last year, this flock did not walk through the snow to reach the waterer. In short, the older flock was not intimidated by the weather.

Meanwhile, the "Young Reds," which were born in early March, experienced their first snow and were too scared to leave their hen house all morning.  I brought them some food and water, both of which they eagerly consumed, but then Elaine and I decided that our young charges needed to lose their fear of snow.  We gathered up each member of the flock, including Al our cockerel and leader of his flock, and placed each one outside in the snow.  Without exception, each young bird crumpled in fear when they were placed in the snow and seemed terrified.

But after a few seconds, each of the Reds decided to move about and went to their feeder and waterer.  We are hoping that on Sunday, the birds remember their newfound courage to take on snow.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Emerald Ash Borer Arrives (Blog 327

On Elaine's and my 38 acres in Botetourt County, Virginia, the emerald ash borer has arrived with a vengenance. My son-in-law David first pointed out the fact several weeks ago, and now I have made a survey of our land, and most of the ashes are dead or dying.

I have cut one of the dying ones down for firewood and marked several others for removal.  David has also noted several that he will cut down for firewood, as David and his family also live on this land.

Invasive species are a threat to wildlife and wildlife habitat.  And that has become apparent once again on my little postage stamp of land.