Sunday, December 23, 2007

First true debacle of duck season!

2 lessons learned this week from an awful day afield:

1) Never assume that the marine forecast is correct;

2) Never get so absorbed by one portion of the forecast, that you overlook other key details.

So......the story. Left home on time, excited for a promising morning of duck hunting (air 31 degrees, heavy clouds, light onshore wind, birds in the area), and hit one stumbling block after another. Decided to access the duck blind through a local park (which is legal). Unfortunately Ranger Rick (or whoever) was 25 minutes late for work and the (typically unlocked) park gate was locked...resulting in about a 30 - 40 minute delay in my tight schedule to get out on the water. And of course, still had to pay $3 to access the park. Hooray!

I had checked the marine forecast obsessively for the last few days just to confirm some light winds that would be blowing right in my face - not the best thing, but manageable. I neglected to check THE TIDE! and once the boat was out, pretty much saw a very dark version of this:

So I had the divine experience of dragging the boat through the mud and about 3" of water for about a half-mile before I reached the duck blind. About the time I arrived, legal shooting time had passed, and folks started harvesting birds - I had no decoys in the water yet! But at least the winds were light.

About 45 minutes passed and the wind picked up substantially (forecast 3 to 8 mph). I saw whitecaps in the middle of the Bay, which usually means that winds have exceeded 15mph. A few minutes later, 1 to 2 foot waves started crashing against the duck blind. This wave action not only caused me some serious stress, but caused all 3,000 to 4,000 ducks in the area to move out into open water, about 2 miles out in the Bay. Not helpful. Had a lone shot at a lone bufflehead - and missed! Even less helpful!

Contrary to the marine forecast (winds to max out around 9am at 8mph), the winds continued to build, causing me to be a little concerned for my safety, and my ability to get the boat back on solid ground (and not sunk in the mud). I started packing the boat with the approximately 3 dozen decoys I had set out, and was promptly set upon by at least 3 large flocks of ducks, which I could do nothing about since my hands were full of decoy line and decoys. Took a few deep breaths and pushed the boat out into thigh-deep water, past the waves, and dragged it behind me the entire way back to the boat landing.

This story would not be complete without describing the "warning ticket" that Ranger Rick put on my windshield, which said, "WARNING! Our unofficial policy is that hunters can no longer park their vehicles at the park, while hunting at the park." Which, obviously, makes no sense. But I am a guy that understands "cutting my losses" so instead of trying to hunt down Ranger Rick and demand an explanation for his absurd diktat (which was my first instinct), I figured, "let's leave it alone." Enough damage had been done. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

T Dogg Check In - El Salvador

Hey dude whats kickin? I sent a few emails to mom and dad but i got no response so now I look to you to forward this for me big brother. We left Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala and now are in Acajutla, el Salvador loading sugar. We will be leaving soon & heading home. Hopefully around 30 days from now I will be there. I went to town in Puerto Quetzal and hung out and wow, that's a special place hahaha. Well i am taking plenty of pictures and catching plenty of strange fish. Write back and I will give you a shout on xmas day.

peace out


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Cover Crops - Not so Good!

Cover crops save landowners soil and money....except for maybe this year!

I typically put in my winter cover crops in early September, when the weather is starting to wane and precipitation starts to become a little more regular. However, we had temperatures into the 90s as late as October 20, and no real rain until about October 24. This year I chose New Zealand White Clover and (as usual) Austrian Field Peas as my cover crops for our "mini-woodlot". The rabbits got into the peas all last winter (which is fine - we don't hunt them at home, nor do we grow the peas for food), so I figured they would appreciate more peas this year. I have had mixed results with other varieties of clovers in past winters, so New Zealand White is a new crop for me. Anyway, here is the sorry data:

Typical Year:
  • Planting Date: Aug 15
  • Height/cover by full winter (Jan 1): approx. 8" / 75%
  • Height by harvest (June 1): approx 20" / 95%

Fall 2007:
  • Planting Date: Oct 15
  • Height / cover by full winter: 3" / 25%
  • Height / cover by harvest: ???

So, without even getting to the end of the winter, I can already tell you that the plan next year will have to be:

  • light application of pot ash,
  • planting by September 1, and
  • twice-weekly watering/irrigation until fall rains begin.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Success on ice

Just returned from our trip to the Lehigh Valley (eastern PA), where the weather was fairly cooperative (low 20s at night, mid-30s during daylight; freezing rain). We harvested 30 or so Canada geese and a few snow geese; the canada geese were primarily fat resident birds who roost in limestone quarries and eat the lawns of the many new industrial facilities in the area. A few migrant geese, including the snow geese, were in the mix. More photos on the way!

At this time I would like to sing the praises of Gore-tex and all other similar, environmentally destructive waterproofing chemicals.

We got PELTED with ice, rain, and freezing rain for 2 days and I simply did not get wet or cold. I had on my Cabela's duck coat and some goofy "Field and Stream" insulated bibs (on sale for $29 at Dick's), and rubber boots & gloves, and a gore-tex balaclava. That's pretty much it! It's amazing how far outdoor gear has come in the last 20 years. Obviously there is some correlation between product development and peoples' willingness to pay for gear that will keep them warm and dry.

Tons of great photos on the way and special thanks to Scotty & Ted for scouting the area and getting the farmers' permission to hunt their fields.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Survival of the Most Patient

I am crossing my fingers, but I passed an important bunch of milestones at work today, which will allow me to better......SCREW OFF for the rest of the year! You heard it right here - I have approved vacation for at 1/2 a day, every day, until January 2. Upcoming fun-ness involves
  • hunting the Lehigh Valley for geese (2 days)
  • hunting coastal Maryland for my first black duck of the season (could take several days)
  • first bow hunt of the fall (pathetic, I know)
  • hunting beaver ponds for ducks in central Virginia
  • hunting coastal Virginia for diving ducks

Thule - waiting; January 2007

It is really exciting to get into the guts of hunting season (no pun intended) and surround myself with nature again for a couple of months. Being able to eat wild game and organic meat (instead of grocery store, saline-injected chicken) is very important to us, and frankly, the freezer has been empty for awhile around here.

Secret Spot - Southern Virginia

The most important part is BEING THERE. Being out in the marsh or the woods in the fall is at worst, a near-religious experience, and often a test of anyone's patience. When you ask a hunter about their favorite hunting moments, often they'll tell you about a time they saw something unique.....and unhuntable. River otters, loons, dolphins, minks and weasels, eagles and owls. All this wildlife is out there for us to see. So whether you hunt or not - GET OUT THERE! See some of our amazing wildlife before it all goes into hibernation or migrates south for the winter.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Movie Review: The Future is Unwritten

Over Thanksgiving, we got to see "The Future is Unwritten," a Julian Temple biopic about one of my personal heros, Joe Strummer. We saw it at the IFC theatre in..Chelsea??..NYC.
The setup of the film was not at all tiresome, and documented a great deal of the transition between the dying (thank god) London hippie culture of the early 1970s, and the uprising of the activist (later, "punk") culture of the late 1970s/early 1980s. It was pretty educational. A lot of the old video and audio was not that amazing, but maybe that's because I'd seen it on 900 other documentaries about british punk in general, and The Clash in particular.

On the other hand, recent interviews with old Clash band members (especially Topper) were really invigorating and informative, and really brought a lot to the film. I also enjoyed some of the (circa 1999 to 2002) Joe Strummer interview audio, it was neat to hear his perspective.

The film has a corporate soundtrack (Julian Temple, after all), and what fills it, is the background audio of the film were re-broadcasts of Joe Strummer's "Pirate Radio" show on the BBC from the early 1980s. Everything from Elvis Presley to U-Roy, and very little Clash.

One negative aspect of the film, for me, was that the overall premise (global Strummerville immigrant camps filled with movie stars and old punkers, all listening to the Strummer Pirate Radio broadcasts, singing along, and adding their own comments....Johnny Depp in particular) added this weird, aging hippie pretentiousness, of "Joe Strummer was awesome, and only WE truly understand, because we were there."

Of course, these folks have a special window into the man, and his music and politics.. ...absolutely. But some of the monologues bordered on "cultural high ground." When in fact, the beauty of punk rock (unlike the hippy movement...which just sort of died under its own drug-addled weight) is EXACTLY that it's not tied to one group of people in one place in one time. It's viral, and totally unstoppable, and that is the beauty of Joe Strummer, and his music...and inevitably, this film!

Swamp Thing Overall Rating: .............4 muddy boots out of 5

Concept.....................................................4 / 5

Realism.....................................................5 / 5

Cinematography......................................4 / 5

Soundtrack/Score...................................5 / 5

Pretentiousness (negative score)..........3 / 5

T Dogg Comes Up for Air!!

From the satellite connection on the Zeus tug....

hey its tyler, i tried to send an e-mail yesterday but i dont know what happened. anyway we just left the panama canal and are in the pacific. i did some fishing yesterday and didnt have much luck but i did catch 2 baracudas and 1 mahi mahi in the gulf which was awesome!

i also got to see the panama coastal railroad and don't worry i am taking lots of pictures. the trip may take longer than expected but no worries - i am making money. i just wanted to send a hello to everyone and i will be in touch. take it easy. peace tyler

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Real snow

Wow...first powder I have seen in about 2 or 3 years...and first time we have had a real December snow event in just as long. Wildlife are all scurrying about looking for food - the woods are thick with deer, rabbits, and songbirds, and I have a feeling that when late duck season opens next week, we will be overrun with ducks and geese. For right now, though, it's a blast watching the juncos, nuthatches, and woodpeckers war over the rest of the berries on the viburnums. At one point it was pretty obvious that they were all pretty hungry, so I supplemented the real bird food (viburnums, golden millet, spicebush, etc), with some cheap bird food in the feeder and on the snow. That seemed to alleviate the tension a little bit.

For as similar as they are, the nuthatches and woodpeckers feed very differently - the nuthatches hang out on tree trunks, frequently hitting the feeder or the bushes for just a small morsel of food; while the woodpeckers (downy) only occasionally cruise down off the tree trunks and seem to grab several beakfuls of food before returning to their perch. Neat to watch.

I planned to visit a few farms today west and north of here, but that was kind of pointless since those areas got upward of a foot of snow. Here's a few pix from around the haus. PS the scarf was not our idea.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

More Weather!

Night 'Maters. Fall 2006. 35mm canon with flash.

Gray weather and wintery-ness all around. Flora and fauna seem a little surprised - songbirds everywhere in the light rain, trying to find some good food (our yard is full of berries and seeds) before the heavy weather really sets in. Our winter groundcover (clovers and austrian peas) all germinated VERY late due to the drought, and is not really established well enough to tolerate frost and freezing rain. Guess we'll see how that goes!

On the other hand - great day of football yesterday as I was able to watch both my schools (Appalachian State and Virginia Tech) thrash their opponents in important post-season games!

For a good wrap-up of Appalachian State football, visit my friends at the Blue Ridge Blog . My Hokies will be looking forward to a trip to the Orange Bowl (opponent to be revealed at 8pm sunday). I hope everybody has a good week, and I'll hit y'all later!

Monday, November 26, 2007

T Dogg - International Man of Mystery

Latest word is that Brother T has cleared the mouth of the Mississippi River and also the boundary to international waters in the Gulf of Mexico, headed toward the Panama Canal, and then, Puerto San Jose in Guatemala.

Here he is in less interesting times, fishing the Gunpowder River in northern Maryland. A truly awful day of fishing, but it was beautiful and quiet down in that river valley on a hot August day.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Escape from New Jersey!

Hell yeah, we somehow managed to drive from NYC to Baltimore in 5 hours while only spending about 1 hour in the state of NJ.......opting for a relatively beautiful drive through eastern PA instead. It worked like a charm!

We had some amazing food at Hill Country BBQ in the middle of Manhattan last night. It was Texas-style, which is not my favorite, but I still would give the (full) pork ribs a "8 out of 10." Only in Memphis have I had ribs that were TRULY better. They didn't have any beer on tap (????) but the PBR was cold, and only $2. They had one of my favorite down-home style music (bar downstairs) piped through the PA through the rest of the restaurant. The DJ selections (Dylan, MJ Hurt, W Guthrie, BB King) were pedestrian for a roots music fan, but still pretty damn entertaining, considering it was NYC, and all NYC restaurants seem to either loop "Enya" or the Strokes. Both of which are vomitous.

In other news, Virginia Tech football pounded the University of Virginia - Charlottesville Campus on saturday. The UVA-C message board banter went from friday's "We are going to destroy Va Tech" to sunday's "Football doesn't matter, clearly we are the superior university."

It was a great game to watch, despite the fact that I had to watch it in the room with my sleeping 89-year old grandmother, so I couldn't bounce around, jump, yell, or even cheer. Oh well. At least I got to watch it in HD!!!!!! Wooo hooo bitches! Chris Long (UVA) is a BEAST,

and as such, Va Tech double teamed him and ran to the opposite side of the field...........which STILL netted Long something like 3 sacks, 10 tackles, and 1 forced fumble. BEAST!

Otherwise it was a fun game to watch - damn close until the 4th quarter. My Hokies will have another shot at Boston College next week for the ACC championship. I have a feeling BC is not nearly as excited about it..for a variety of reasons.

Good time to be a Va Tech fan. When I was a freshman, VT went 2-8-1.

Anyway, back to the grind tomorrow. Staking out one more wetland construction site for 2007 on the DE/MD border, and working on the budget and other random painful tasks. Hope everybody had a great weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First Day off in 3 months!

Thank God I am not working today. We are heading up to NYC (Queens) to visit the Swamp Thing clan for thanksgiving. NYC is always an oddity to me. I always look forward to going, and often.......I look forward to leaving there. NYC at night is like a much can forget about all the other things that are important to you and just look around and enjoy the sights - kind of like real wilderness. Ooh, the dichotomy.

While we are up there, Amy and I expect to get a full dose of "Crazy Swiss Grandma." Topics for discussion will include:

1) "Where are my gold lamps from that cruise to Korea?"

2) "Who wants herring?"

3) "Where is your father?"

On another note, a whole barrage of friends from Baltimore will also be in Queens visiting crazy old grandparents so we'll just make it..........uggh.......we'll all make the best of it. The advanced screenings of the Joe Strummer biopic "The Future is Unwritten" are still going on in Manhattan so we are definitely going to see that. Amy talked to the film promoter and found out that it still hasn't been picked up by a distributor....weird...

I'll let you know how the movie is and we'll send some "hilarious" updates from the family fun. I hope everybody has a long, relaxing weekend. Except the UVA football team, who I hope get their asses worn out by Virginia Tech.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blues Music Weather

Looked at some new wetland restoration sites for next year. Old farms full of ditches...gotta love farming wetlands. Spent all evening drinking and listening to Mississippi John Hurt. The fall is definitely here. If it keeps up (gasp), we may actually have a winter season this year. God forbid.

And by the way, as a rabid blues fan, it's always been interesting to me that people associate blues music and bluegrass with fall weather. While part of that may be truly cultural (although revivals were usually held in the summer, not the fall), the fall is generally a time of content in agrarian America. The crops come off the field and the farmer gets enough money to hopefully sustain him & his through the winter (hopefully longer - until greens or wheat come off in the late spring).

Milkweed. Our yard. Baltimore.

Then again, much of traditional oral blues & bluegrass is prison music. But there - prison is open 12 months a again, why fall? This is getting tedious.

On a more pointless but entertaining note, looking forward to one of the last real weeks of college football.....which will be followed by another 8 months of ignoring the TV! This week, the ol' Hokies take on the Gay Swordsmen, err, Cavaliers, of UVA. Should be a great game!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another quiet fall day

Beer and football and friends later. Work tomorrow. Clouds and wind this morning.

Extra Rain, Please!

Well, fall has finally arrived here and I couldn't be happier. The weather is just about what it should be, and our water deficit is about half of what it was a month ago. Duck season is in, and it's been a nice opportunity to get outside and get some peace and quiet.

Northern Maryland:

Between the drought and the (up to this point) mild weather, it hasn't been a super productive season for waterfowl, but there's plenty of time left in the season!!! I hope everybody gets out in the outdoors, whether it's in a kayak, a duck boat, or your hiking boots. Enjoy the scenery and wildlife before winter sets in!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Drought Still Here....Maybe Fading?

Since it is the fall, and we hunt, hike, fish, and kayak in wetlands here in the Mid-Atlantic, some of my time on the road has been spent looking guessed it...places to hunt for the winter. Unfortunately the current drought has left most of the best wetlands about 10" to 18" too low in water to really be considered useful to ducks (or duck hunters, for that matter). The neat thing is that most wetlands that are still holding water have become an oasis for wildlife, until more rain comes.

Fall finally arrives!

After a near endless summer, continuing drought, no hurricane surf, no fall-quality fishing, and no ducks flying in this part of the world, the hot, dry weather appears to have broken! Hopefully this is the beginning of a more normal season!

I am heading down to the beach to present at a conference. Hopefully will also find some waves or fish in the water. More updates from there!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Putting It Back

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic, it's easy to look around and see that the landscape obviously didn't always look this way. Euro-Americans have been managing, extracting, and developing this landscape for 400 years. Native Americans have been clearing, ditching, flooding, burning, and cutting the same lands for thousands of years (at a much smaller scale). People have a lot of history here.

A lot of globally-unique wildlife used to call the Chesapeake Bay home, and many species still do - these species, for the most part, are tolerant of people, pollution, and other disturbances. Many of the species that could not cope with human activity or land management have either gone extinct, or are at risk of doing so. Land protection is increasing, but so is development pressure! Can nature win...or even break even?

The organization I work for protects and restores land for wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay. Not as a shield for developers or the Dept of Transporation....but for real...Here are a couple wetland restoration projects I'm working on:

Here's a small project in coastal Delaware...taking some really poor quality land out of agricultural production and providing for seasonal flooding to help out wintering and migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

The picture below is from a 20 acre open water / emergent wetland project we're doing on the eastern shore of Maryland. Upland islands are included to provide some habitat for grassland birds.
This project will hold a small area of water through the early summer, providing habitat for frogs, salamanders, and a variety of birds. In the winter, it will serve as a large refuge for wintering waterfowl - no bird hunting takes place on the entire 900 acre property.
We currently have another 45 acres of work underway on the same property - hope the critters appreciate it!
Fall is generally a "harvest" time for Americans. Farmers, gardeners, hunters, and anglers all look forward to a bountiful harvest in the fall months. Non-consumptive nature enthusiasts gather in some of their best experiences as well, this time of year - bird watching, rock climbing, kayaking....fall is a great time for all of these great activities.
As we participate in all these activities, it's easy to forget that keeping natural areas in place takes real efforts, real time, and real money. If you participate in, or donate to an organization that supports these principles (American Farmland Trust, Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited), take time to look around and enjoy what you've helped to protect for next fall, and endless seasons after that! If you've been too busy to get involved, at least consider making a donation!

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...