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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Babysitting the Grandsons (Blog 372)

It's a blustery, cold Saturday, and our wood stove is stoked, and our grandsons Sam (age 5) and Eli (age 3) are having a sleepover. As I write, we are watching a Thomas movie and the boys are drinking hot chocolate. Eli has already spilled his, but, hey,no problem.

I have often teased Elaine that when I first asked her out if I had said, "Go out with me on a date, and one night 35 or 40 years later, we can be babysitting our grandchildren. Would you have gone out with me, if that had been my line?"

Elaine is rather non-committal on that question, leaving me much in doubt if that would have been a good approach.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Finding a Christmas Tree with my Grandsons (Blog 371)

One of the joys of living out in the country and having Elaine's and my two grandsons, five-year-old Sam and three-year-old Eli, living nearby is seeing them experience Christmas. This week one day after school, the boys came over and helped me find, cut down, and drag back to the house a Christmas tree.

The tree was just a scrawny Virginia pine, but to Same and Eli, it was a tree of magnificent beauty and importance. I look forward to seeing them unrap their presents there on Monday

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Joy of Cutting Wood (Blog 370)

Saturday morning, I spent my time working on my next book and several magazine articles. After lunch, though, I spent several hours working in our woodlot, using my chainsaw and splitting maul.

There is something wonderful and satisfying about hard physical labor that is difficult to describe. Several years ago, a huge limb fell from a dead chestnut oak in the hollow directly behind our house.  For the past two winters, I have worked on this log, as it is exceptionally thick and hard to saw. Yesterday, I finally finished cutting and splitting it. The wood from the log now sits on our sundeck and burns in our stove.

When not using our wood stove, Elaine and I keep our thermostat set to 68 degrees. But Elaine loves for me to start up our wood stove on weekends because she says the heat "is warmer." She's right, it does seem to be. This afternoon, I need to work on a pignut hickory that fell close to the driveway last week, and then there's that long dead black locust that lies on the ground. Both need my attention.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rhode Island Reds See Their Snow (Blog 369)

Elaine and I have two flocks of heritage Rhode Island Reds living side by side in separate enclosures. We call the older chickens the "Big Reds" and the younger ones, the "Little Reds." This morning, the Little Reds experienced their first snow, and their leader, Don Junior, an eight-month-old cockerel, stuck his head out the henhouse door, saw the snow, emitted an alarm note, and promptly announced to his flock in chicken speak that it was not safe to go outside. Approximately, a half inch of snow had fallen overnight.

Of course, next door, Don Senior resolutely led his flock outside and began to do what chickens do best... eating. Meanwhile, I had to lure Don Junior, who so far has not taken after his father in bravery and leadership skills, out of the house by dangling bread bits a few inches in front of him. Once Don Junior was down on the ground, I had to physically remove the rest of the flock to join in.

Last winter, when snow fell one weekend, the younger flock stayed inside for several days, and a mite outbreak took place.  I don't know if that was because they remained inside for several days, but I am going to try to make sure that an infestation does not occur this winter. One way to do that is to make sure our flock spends time foraging - not cowering inside.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sitting Out the Last Day of Virginia's General Firearms Season (Blog 368)

Today here in Botetourt County, it is the last day of Virginia's general firearms season West of the Blue Ridge. Here I am working on a magazine article and my next Young Adult fiction novel. Elaine's and my freezer is almost full, and I wouldn't mind taking one more doe, but, honestly, I am looking forward to the late muzzleloader season.

I love that season and that time of the year. The weather is usually cold, sometimes, like last year, there is snow on the ground the last week of the season, which is the first week of January. Trudging through the snow, searching for deer sign, trying to dress warmly enough so that I can sit still for hours - it's all so challenging and exhilarating.

Quite frankly, most years I don't kill a deer during the late season, so my success rate is rather pathetic.  In fact, last year during the six antlerless days in Botetourt County, I never saw a doe, just four or five non-shooter young bucks. But during Virginia's late season, just being out in the woods is a good enough reason to be there.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Eve with the Family (Blog 367)

Elaine and I usually celebrate Thanksgiving Eve at our house with our daughter Sarah, her husband David, and their children Sam and Eli. And so it was last night. The only person missing was our son Mark who is in Alaska teaching.

Elaine fixed a scrumptious venison vegetable soup, made from a deer I had killed and for dessert we had crabapple muffins from our Dolgo crabapple tree. After dinner, we called Mark and visited with him for a while. It was a really good evening.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Virginia Bucks in the Morning, Does in the Evening (Blog 366)

Sunday morning, I went deer hunting on one of our properties in Craig County. I set up high on a ridge where I could overlook a feeding flat below, a place I have killed a number of deer over the years. With the general firearms season in and my being afield with a rifle, I was looking to kill a nice doe or a mature buck.

However, I never saw a doe all morning, though I did see four young bucks, drifting through the area and periodically fighting with each other. The sightings were extremely exciting because at one point, I had bucks around me for almost an hour.

That evening, I went hunting on our land in the Eagle Rock area of Botetourt County. I had never hunted the property before, just having bought it last year.  So I arrived at 2:00, set up by 2:15 and killed a doe by 2:30. I think I will hunt this property more in the future.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Virginia Muzzleloader Season Success (Blog 365)

After not being able to hunt Monday through Wednesday of the first week of Virginia's muzzleloader season, I finally was able to plan an after school hunt in Roanoke County. I drove quickly from school to the Roanoke County food plot that was my destination and about 90 seconds after I set up, the deer began filing into the plot.

First came a two pointer, then a nice  2 1/2-year-old six pointer, then another two pointer, and finally a doe. I watched the doe for about two minutes, then she moved slightly and I was able to make an easy 35-yard shot.

Saturday, I am heading for West Virginia to turkey hunt in the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, November 6, 2017

No luck on Opening Weekend of Virginia's Muzzleloading Season (Blog 364)

I was very confident that I would kill a deer on opening weekend of Virginia's muzzleloading season. I had chosen to hunt a food plot in Roanoke County so that I could kill a doe, given that every day in Roanoke is antlerless during the smokepole season.

However, the action was slow Saturday morning, and the evening was even slower. I saw a non-shooter six pointer but that was about it. A doe came near my blind but it spotted me in the blind...which is the last time I won't have a face mask on.  Sunday was even slower as I saw no deer all morning and when around 9:45, a youngster on a an ATV started driving up and down a nearby road, I decided it was time to go home.

I was hoping to go Tuesday morning because we have a school workday beginning at noon, but the forecast is for heavy I guess I will just have to wait a while.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Success on Opening Day of Virginia's Fall Turkey Season (Blog 363)

What an incredible morning on opening day of Virginia's fall turkey season. I had three flocks within 100 yards of me at dawn - too many it seems for me to decide what to do, which caused me to sit tight for several hours. That indecision caused me to wait several hours with the result being that all three flocks left for who knows where.

But one I started moving about, I encountered a flock of birds and ended up taking a hen from it. It is always a thrill to kill a turkey on opening day of the autumn season.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Turkeys and Deer All Around Me in Virginia Woods (Blog 362)

Saturday morning I went to a Botetourt County, Virginia cattle farm to bowhunt, and what a morning it was.  I saw nothing but squirrels until 8:45 when two yearling bucks and a flock of eight turkeys showed up the same time and came within 20 to 30 yards of my hang-on stand.

I was not interested in shooting either of the bucks (a 5 pointer and a 2 pointer), but I very much wanted to try to arrow a turkey. But there was just too many eyes on me.  Once, I started to raise my bow, but one of the turkeys spotted that little bit of movement, which resulted in all of them moving off to about 40 yards away.

Meanwhile, the 5 pointer stalked back and forth in front of me, just 10 yards away. He apparently sensed that something was not right about the area, but he wasn't quite sure just what. Finally, he and the smaller buck followed the turkeys up the mountain.

Who knows what I will see when I go to a different cattle farm this evening.

Monday, October 16, 2017

First Rutting Activity in Virginia Woods (Blog 361)

Sunday morning while bowhunting in Craig County, I witnessed my first rutting activity of this autumn. I watched a  2 1/2-year-old six pointer stroll up a mountain on a logging road. But when he reached a fork in the road, he was met by a 3 1/2-year-old eight pointer that was not pleased with the appearance.

The eight made an aggressive move on the six, then made a scrape on the road. The six pointer decided that the best thing to do was back off about 15 yards. The budding skirmish settled fairly amicably, the two then proceeded to walk up the mountain, the six pointer following discretely behind.

About half hour later, I arrowed a deer and was home for lunch, so it was a good morning.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Canning Venison and Peeling Crabapples (Blog 360)

Today was opening day of Virginia's archery season, and I was fortunate enough to kill a deer on land we own in Craig County. On the drive home, I pulled over and called Elaine and asked if this deer was the one she might want to can. Earlier, Elaine had talked about canning one of the deer I killed this year.

My wife said yes and after I finished removing the meat from the whitetail, and she finished cutting the meat up and placing it in a cooler (Elaine prefer to chill the meat overnight and work it up the next day), we planned out our Sunday. After we finish canning the venison, we will cut up the crabapples I gathered today, and we will make a cobbler.

If we still feel ambitious after those two acts, Elaine says we may make applesauce from some Jonathan apples. I really enjoy talking with her while we do those type things. It's a great way to spend a day together.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Deer Hunting in Virginia and West Virginia (Blog 359)

Last week, I struggled to see deer all week. This week, perhaps because the weather turned colder, sightings - and success - improved.  Thursday, I hunted after school in Roanoke County and killed a deer  during the Urban Archery season.  Then this morning, I drove to Monroe County, West Virginia and killed a nice, mature doe in the morning on that state's bow opening day. Two 25-minute hunts back to back.

I am pondering whether to go Sunday morning to Roanoke County again, but I may sleep in, too. I will check the wind in the morning and see what that is like before making a final decision.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seeing the Same Young Four Pointer (Blog 358)

The last two Saturdays I have seen a fair number of deer, but the only whitetail that has presented a shot is a young four pointer that has shown up at the same time to my tree stand both mornings.  Of course, not only are bucks not legal this time of year in Roanoke County or in Virginia's Urban Archery season as a whole, this buck would be too small to shoot anyway.

The young buck appears to be feeling fairly good about himself, as he successfully head butted a button buck this morning. The latter seemed very intimidated, so Mr. Four Pointer definitely won that round.  From the looks of a rub near my stand, he may have a day of reckoning in the future.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hawk Attacks Chicken Runs (Blog 357)

Elaine and I are often fascinated with the  behavior of our heritage Rhode Island Reds, and such was the case again a few days ago.  Late in the afternoon, I heard Don, our lone rooster, sound the alarm note, so I rushed outside to see what had happened.

I saw Don "high stepping" around in his run, and in the adjacent run, I observed that Mary and her two 14-week old pullets and cockerel, Don, Jr., had all run into their hen house.  Then I saw what looked like a Cooper's hawk fly away and Don let out another alarm note.

A good rooster, and Don is probably the best one we've ever had, will constantly be on guard and will fight to protect his flock.  Of course, with the netting over our two runs, the chickens were not in any danger.  Still, Don performed his job admirably.

I was a little dismayed that his offspring, Don, Jr., was cowering in the run with the hens.  But, Elaine said that he was still a cockerel, maybe he would grow into the role of protector.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

First Deer of Virginia Season (Blog 356)

I really enjoy Virginia's Urban Archery season, and the chance to start bowhunting in early September.  But my first three outings were spent either not seeing deer or having the ones I did glimpse smell me and flee.

After striking out Saturday morning, I told Elaine I wanted to give the evening a try, though we were both skeptical of any success.  But at 5:50 P.M. while afield in Roanoke County, I saw four deer walking through a backyard about 80 yards away.

One of those does appeared before me at 6:10, and upon shooting my crossbow, I heard the resounding thump of a lung shot. Elaine and I spent about three hours Saturday evening butchering the deer and will finish the task on Sunday.  She likes to let the meat set up overnight in a cooler.

It's always a thrill to kill that first deer of the season

Saturday, September 2, 2017

All Camouflaged Up and Nowhere to Go (Blog 355)

It's opening day of Virginia's Urban Archery season, and I should be in a tree stand in Roanoke County right now, but it has been raining most of the night, and the precipitation is expected to continue today.

Although I am going to go bowhunting on Sunday and Monday, there is nothing quite like going afield on opening day of any season. The expectation and the planning have both come to a head, and all that remains is to head for the woods.

So what am I going to do today?  I am working on a magazine story about deer and then reading a book about deer.  Those things will have to do on a rainy Saturday.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Preparing for Opening Day of Virginia's Urban Archery (Blog 354)

I am almost ready for next Saturday and the opening of Virginia's urban archery season. My Parker crossbow is sighted in, the hang-on stand is positioned, and shooting lanes have been cut on the Roanoke County parcel I am going to hunt on.

This weekend, I want to shoot a few more times with the crossbow, put my camo in a scent-free container, and pack a daypack. I am also waiting back to hear from another place in Roanoke County where I might could hunt on Labor Day Monday.

Today, I also told Elaine that she needs to wait around the house in case I kill a deer early next Saturday.  I hope we can butcher a whitetail later that morning.  One never knows, though, what the outcome will be in the deer woods.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Walking in the Dark (Blog 353)

One of the joys in my life is walking three miles in the dark before I head to teach high school English. If I time the morning ramble right, I can hear both night and morning birds before I return home to let out our Rhode Island Red chickens.

This morning, for example, while walking up our driveway I heard a barred owl on our creek bottom and the quaverings of a screech owl on the edge of our clearcut. A little while later, I harked to the hoots of a great-horned owl. I was hoping for the fourth member of the morning quartet to chime in - a chuck-wills-widow, but he was silent this morning.

On the way home as dawn began to break, I heard a towhee singing, though instead of his usual "drink your teaaaaa," he only made it to "drink your" before stopping. It is, afterall, August, far past prime singing time. Following the towhee were the usual suspects: Carolina wrens, catbirds, brown thrashers, cardinals, and robins.

As I walked down the driveway, I heard our rooster Don crowing - all was right with the world.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Scouting for Deer in Virginia Mountains (Blog 352)

Today, Elaine and I drove up into the mountains to our Craig County, Virginia land on Johns Creek to do some pre-season scouting, but mostly to check on the ladder stand and trim some shooting lanes. The ladder stand needed a new belt as the old one was quite worn and the proverbial accident waiting to happen.

I can't stand waiting until the week before bow season to check on stands, stand sites, and to cut shooting lanes.  Do those chores now and don't return until the season begins is my philosophy. I have three weeks before Roanoke County's urban archery season begins and then another month until the regular bow season begins.  I am looking forward to both seasons.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My first fiction novel, Ninth Grade Blues is Published (Blog 351)

Like many people, I've had many goals in life: marrying a great woman, having children and now grandchildren, being a high school English teacher, becoming an outdoor writer, and living out in the country on land where I could hunt and fish. Because of marrying Elaine, everything fell into place over time.

But I never had a goal of writing a novel, and to my continuing surprise, my first work of fiction, Ninth Grade Blues, came out a few days ago. It's a Young Adult novel, following the lives of four ninth graders, their hopes and dreams, successes and failures, their freshman year of high school. If you're interested in learning more, please contact me at I wrote the book for students who don't particularly like school and who are often indifferent readers. Below is the cover.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rhode Island Red Chicks Move Outside (Blog 350)

It was moving day on Monday for our heritage Rhode Island Red chicks. The mother, Mary, and her three chicks moved to their new henhouse outside after spending their "youth" in a pen in the basement.  Long ago, I had named the young cockerel Don, Jr. after his father Don who resides in the adjacent run with his six hens.

Elaine finally decided what to name the two pullets, she is going with Thelma and Louise. Thelma is the more agressive of the two and is quite willing to square off with Don, Jr. Louise, meanwhile, is more timid and quite content to be off by herself when Don, Jr. and Thelma start squabbling. I imagine Thelma's days of fighting with her sibling will end in another month or two, as soon Junior's inevitable growth spurt will begin, and he will be much bigger than she is.

Here's a picture of their first day in their new home.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stop Mowing Your Front Yard (Blog 349)

Where are these beautiful purple coneflowers in the picture below growing? Perhaps in a field or meadow somewhere?

Actually, they are growing in our front yard. A number of years ago, I decided to stop mowing  a small section of our front yard and "just let it go." The result has been a profusion of growth of wild plants whose seeds were present in the seed bank: purple coneflowers, daisy fleabane, Virginia creeper, ragweed, black-eyed susans, and many others.

My "overgrown yard" patch may look seedy to some, but I think it is beautiful and far better for the environment than those closely cropped fescue deserts presented as the norm.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer Locavore Meals (Blog 348)

One of the many great things about summer are all the great, simple locavore meals. The other day for lunch, Elaine and I had venison burgers (from a deer I had killed) with Cherokee purple tomatoes and onions from our garden.  Dessert was blackberry cobbler from blackberries that I had picked behind our house.

Tonight for dinner, the menu is eggs frittata (eggs courtesy of our Rhode Island Red hens) and blueberry cobbler.  The blueberries come from our land on Potts Mountain. These are true feasts that mean summer to us.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Our Heritage Rhode Island Reds (Blog 347)

Right now, Elaine and I have three groups of heritage Rhode Island Red chickens.  What we call the "Old Reds" are our Rooster Don and his three hens that are a little over two years old, the "Young Reds that are 16 months old with Al and his three hens, and the "Baby Reds" which live in the basement and consist of the hen Mary and her three chicks that are about a month old.

Soon, it will be time to move Mary and her little flock outside to one of the runs.  However, we have heard that older chickens will sometimes kill the chicks of other hens.  Mary used to be part of Al's flock, but she has been gone for a month, of course, and will not be greeted warmly, nor likely will her chicks.

We truly do not know what to do, but Mary and her chicks will soon be too big to stay in the basement enclosure, and they obviously need more outside time than what they have been receiving.  We will have to come up with an idea soon.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Surf and Turf: Mountain Style (Blog 346)

Today for lunch, Elaine and I had a locavore lunch of Surf and Turf, mountain style.  Our two entrees were venison burgers from a deer I had killed last year and rainbow trout, from fish that friend John Loope caught on our trip to the Smith River the day before.  Modesty compels me to admit that I had seven bites but failed to catch any of them, but that's another story for another day.

The locavore theme was made better by the fact that also on the menu were green beans from our daughter Sarah's garden. Tonight for dinner, our centerpiece will be wineberry cobbler, again from berries picked near our house.  So far we have gathered a little over five gallons of wild berries this summer, and the blackberries, the main focus of our picking, have not started to come in to any degree yet.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wild Raspberries Ripe in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Blog 345)

Elaine and I took off in the pick-up early this morning to our Potts Mountain land on the Virginia/West Virginia line. Our main mission was to gather wild black raspberries, which we did with a satisfying tally of seven quarts.

But just as enriching was our time in the mountains together, talking about life, grandchildren, interesting songbirds, and, of course, raspberries. We're having raspberry pie on Sunday, the rest we froze for the winter. Earlier this week, two quarts of raspberries were made into jam. It was a very good day together and a very good week picking raspberries with a total of  3 1/4 gallons.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chicks Day Out (Blog 344)

Today, Elaine's and my heritage Rhode Island Red chicks are 12 days old, so we thought it was time to let them and their mother, Mary, outside from their basement enclosure for the first time.  Predictably, Mary was very agitated when I picked her up - and thus caused her to be away from her chicks for the first time - while Elaine gathered the chicks and put them into a brown box.

Soon, though, everyone was outside in the front yard, and the chicks were exposed to clover and other vegetation for the first time. Mary diligently showed them that clover is something good to eat and that fescue is not.

After about 20 minutes outside, it was time to return to the basement. After Elaine put the three chicks into the box, I noted that the chick I think is a cockerel, I've named him Don, Jr., after his father, was standing while the two chicks I believe are pullets had already settled down for the ride indoors.  As the weeks go by, it will be interesting to see if my guesses are right.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Rhode Island Red Chicks Arrive (Blog 343)

Elaine and I thrilled to announce that one of our heritage Rhode Island Red hens, Mary, has hatched out three chicks, doing so on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Mother and offspring are doing well, and are living in our basement in a pen.

We learned from talking with other chicken rearers that Mary's fellow hens would likely kill her chicks, so we moved the hen and eggs into our basement on Sunday.  That proved to be a no time to spare relocation, as the eggs started hatching on Tuesday morning.

Unfortunately, Mary abandoned her six other eggs as she seemed consumed with rearing the three that had hatched.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Locavore Presentation This Weekend (Blog 342)

At our Botetourt County, Virginia home this Saturday, June 3 from 9 to noon, Elaine and I will give a presentation on how to be locavores.  We, as well, will talk about our solar panels, garden, chickens, wildlife habitat management, serve lunch, give a tour, and have copies of our  book Living the Locavore Lifestyle given out as part of the $20.00 cost to attend.  Here is the link to our event, which is a fundraiser for the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Milk Snake, Not a Copperhead (Blog 341)

Last week, I wrote about seeing a copperhead near the stoop of our Botetourt County, Virginia home.  But as I told Elaine, I was not quite sure that my identification was correct.  Today, as soon as I came home from the last day of school for Botetourt County, I saw the snake once again near our stoop.

Elaine earlier in the week had bought me "snake tongs" so that I could pick up any snake for examination or photos.  So I quickly retrieved the tongs and used them to hoist up the snake. Immediately, I was able to see that the creature had a rounded head and round eyes, not at all like the head and eyes of a venomous snake like a copperhead.

Nevertheless, Elaine wanted the milk snake far away from her stoop, so I took the milk snake some 75 yards away from the house and released it unharmed.

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.