Thursday, February 28, 2008

Possum Hunter

A certain loveable lab decided that the rent was due for our backyard possum. Apparently the possum was not quite ready to leave his lair under our deck, and decided to protest the aforementioned eviction notice by biting Ro in the chin. We let it go for about 24 hours until the swelling was really ridiculous (about 4x worse than this photo), then paid a late night visit to our friends at Falls Road Animal Hospital . 1 hour and $210 later, we had some antibiotics, a nice anti-inflammatory injection, and a sleepy dog.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Winter Bird Seed Mix #2

Redbelly pays a visit
Now that all of our wintering birds are safely here (those that aren't will likely not make it this far south), and we're having consistent freezing weather, I figured I'd try something a little more intense. The last mix, which was heavy on sunflowers and peanuts, brought in droves of juncos, nuthatches, chickadees, house finches, and cardinals.......but very little else (save doves and sparrows). The woodpeckers are hammering the suet, but that's to be expected. In addition, the sharp-shinned hawks are stopping by almost daily because of the bird activity (damn noisy sparrows).
So here's Mix 2:
50% black oil sunflower
20% cracked corn
20% millet
10% mealworms
I'll bring that wren back in, yet!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Carolina Mantis Migrating North?

I happened by a construction site on the eastern shore of Virginia last week. The site has been a fallow cropfield for several years. Figured I would save a few native seeds (or plants) and call it my good deed for the day. What I found was much more interesting.
This eggcase (ootheca) morphology was just similar enough to the ever-popular Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis) that maybe - just maybe - I had found a colony of mantids from an entirely different species. Once I had collected about 30 oothecae (remember, this site will be under pavement in about 90 days), I was suddenly stricken by fear at the outside chance that I was helping to spread some other critter whose eggcase I don't, say, the desert locust! Since this field is between a highway and a railway, it could be anything! Gulp! So I ran home and looked for some answers on the website that our president refers to as, "The Google."

Answer found!

Since most of my fieldwork south of the VA/NC border has been in the mountains, I was not really familiar with the Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), an inhabitant of warm season grass fields, emergent wetlands, and tall pastures throughout the southeastern piedmont and coastal plain. I continued my "internet research" (gotta love kids these days!) and while most of the internet references to S. carolina are from natural history museums and state agencies from North Carolina to Florida, and just a few from Virginia and states north. Apart from the beloved,; most of the "northern" descriptions make a note of observations that the local populations of S. carolina were historically unknown or uncommon, but now seem to be increasing.
Now, I know that it's a mighty big inferential jump to assume that since these very anecdotal descriptions of "increasing populations" on the fringe of S. carolina's range might actually represent species migration.........but humor me for a moment.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, we have not had a "significant" winter for 5 or 6 years. Since mantids die after fall mating, adult over-wintering is not a limiting direct factor for the species. However, I do know that extreme cold temperatures have a major effect on the viability of insect eggs. Since most of my career has been focused on species that are NOT increasing in number or range, I simply don't have a good theoretical background on what may be happening with the Carolina Mantis. Is it possible that mild winter temperatures in the existing range (increased hatch success), combined with mild fall temperatures on the northern edge of the existing species range (increased adult growth, mating & egg-laying success) are combining to move this species northward into a new range?

And the $200 questions: Will its movement north be impeded by the larger Chinese Mantis? What will its effects be on highly valued pollinators, as well as the few remaining native mantids in the Great Plains and north central states? Or, if we have two solid winter seasons in a row, do all the Carolina Mantids vacate the upper Mississippi, prior to ever reaching the Great Lakes?

Did anyone notice that I didn't mention global warming one time?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

NYC Hangover

This Squirrel Says that Potato Knish is "Like, Woah."

Had an eventful trip to NYC last weekend. Was supposed to be relaxing, and was supposed to involve some "nature in the city" events and photos....but....none of that happened.

We left Maryland around 9pm, hoping for about a 12:30am arrival at my family's place in Queens, NY. At the Maryland - Delaware line, we sat in a pointless backup for over an hour. Reason for the delay? Only 2 toll booth stations open. On a holiday weekend. On I-95. By then I was pretty damn sleepy, but we pushed on into DE, and then southern NJ, and then Amy finally convinced me to pull over to sleep in Central New Jersey. It was already midnight. Ugh. Amy woke me up in a NJ Turnpike service plaza (apparently where I had pulled over) at about 1:30am. As you can see, this story isn't getting any better. We made it to the family place in NYC around 3:00am.

Saturday was actually fun - and anti-climactic. We slept until 10am, then ate lunch in the neighborhood, then took another nap from 1230 to 1pm, then took another nap from 3pm to 5pm. I have only spent about 3 nights in my own bed in the last 2 weeks - perhaps I was a little worn down? I was informed by my grandmother's nurse that the basement sink was backfilling - never a good sign - but I foolishly assumed some Drano would help and we went out for our Official Valentines Dinner tm . Of course we came back to the house and realized that the main sewer drain from the house to the street was clogged. AWESOME.

In short, we spent all day sunday dealing with the plumber, and my relatives, and that whole situation. Let me just say at this time, that Union labor is a great premise for progressive capitalism, however, when it's you who gets stuck with the $8,000 plumbers bill (they didn't even dig anything up or replace anything), then it's a little bit harder to say who the Suffering Worker is!

Anyway, back to real (and useful) posts tomorrow. As you can see, Ro did not appreciate the trip to NYC either.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Great Weekend Out

15.5 lb Giant Canada Goose

The brothers arrived late wednesday night. The temperature got to about 82 degrees, so hunting for thursday was definitely out. Instead of drinking and getting loud (our usual M.O.), everybody settled in, watched some bad late night TV, and eventually passed out.

Other than cooking breakfast for the whole crew, I worked thursday morning from home and let the brothers do their thing. Everybody was getting anxious so we went up to Loch Raven Trap & Skeet and shot a few rounds. Our shooting was mediocre but it was a really great time! It was the first time I had shot at their club, and I will definitely be going back.

Thursday afternoon we got the call that some geese were getting nervous about the incoming weather, and were on the move near the Maryland / Pennsylvania border. Game on!

Friday morning brought a light snow, and what (at first) appeared to be perfect goose weather - below freezing, with moderate winds and no sun. However, we were foiled once again by our ongoing mild winter / drought, and by 10AM we had bright sun, 50 degree temperatures, and only two dead geese between the three of us. We were pretty disappointed at our botched effort, but we had stayed as flexible as we could, and when it came time to schedule the hunt (12 hours ahead of the actual hunt), we thought we were making the right call. Based on what we saw of area geese later that day, the light snow was our undoing. I believe that the snow scared the geese just enough so they got out of the area they were using (area of our hunt), to feed on better food (2,000 feet north of us). We relaxed for the rest of the day, and shot the .22 (targets) around the house, and the day was capped by an excellent made-from-scratch meal of Carolina BBQ, beans, and cornbread by Amy. Perfect.

The mild weather continued on saturday, so we were not motivated to chase down lazy geese. Instead, we went back over to Loch Raven Trap & Skeet and shot several more rounds, and enjoyed a few "hard to get" cigars from T-Dogg's recent trip to Centro America. Once again, the Nutty Professor out shot T-Dogg and I by 25% on every round, even though he was using my toughest gun (Rem 58 Sportsman, full choke). It was great to see him get excited about shooting, though!

We capped the weekend off with several movies, and the brothers got on their way back to VA on sunday morning.

Once again, the waterfowl harvest was not really productive, but the time spent together with my two brothers was priceless and hilarious. We talked a lot about our lives now, and about some of the great and not-great moments we've shared over the last 30 years together.

The late goose season continues for another week, but for me, waterfowl season is over now. The decoys and guns have all been laid out to clean. A lot of gear has already been hosed down and put away. My mind is already wandering toward gardening, turkey hunting, and the spring's frog and salamander hatch...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Geese Divide and Conquer

In western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, we have a "late Resident" goose season. This is a consequence of having too many people living near too many geese. The geese, which are of the Giant Canada Goose subspecies, learned after World War II that it was easier to stay in the Mid-Atlantic (and southern Mid-Western) states and eat tender green wheat and waste corn and soybeans all winter, than it was to actually fly south in the winter, and fly north in the spring. Hence: Resident Geese. Add to that, the amazing density of people in this area, and our elimination of all native goose predators (except cats, dogs, foxes, and snakes), and you have a goose population explosion. Add to that, all of our ponds, lakes, streams, and beaches, where the resident geese love to hang out, and voila! You have a water quality nightmare!

I'll save my soap box for later, re: the anti-hunting golf courses and condo developments who prefer to have their geese caught in nets and gassed to death in a van, rather than close their green space for 1 or 2 days a year and allowing hunters to make a dent in the goose population.

Anyway, my brothers are coming up from VA so we can all try our hand at the aforementioned late resident goose in Maryland. Unfortunately, it is currently 72 degrees and raining, and the geese have been getting fat on corn and wheat for the last 5 days. Those birds are not going anywhere, and they certainly are not interested in flying over some field (where we'll be hiding)to eat, during legal shooting hours. About 2,000 of them are sitting on the reservoir by our house. Not helpful. However, the temperature is supposed to drop to 14 degrees by sunday maybe we'll have some luck after all?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Who Am I?

Seriously, this guy showed up with the Nuthatch Nation (tm) the other day. He's been hanging around the yard and is more excited about the pole on which the feeder is mounted, than the actual feeder or food. He also likes kicking around in the bare dirt. I know the photo is of his rump, but you get the picture.

He's pretty small, about 3.5", and has a short warble for a song. He doesn't quite sing the "Cheeseburger" song of the Carolina wren, but yet, I am thinking he's a Carolina wren. His bill isn't right for a brown creeper, either (would have been my next guess). Any opinions on this?

Also, here's one of the Nuthatch Nation (tm). They are here all day, every day now, apparently. Whatever that is about.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Winter Bird Seed Mix #1

Somebody e-mailed me and asked me if I feed the birds (at home.....vs.....feeding hunted, wild birds, which is against Federal law!). The answer is yes, sometimes. Our yard, and our nearby creekbed and park, provide lots of natural birdfood from about May to November. I start to supplement with seed around that time, and continue until I see songbirds nesting in the spring.

Winter seed mixes are special - they need to contain:
  • High fat
  • High protein
  • Fast carbs
  • Thin seed hulls/shells (thick hulls cause the bird to spend more energy cracking open the seed, than they'll get from eating the seed)

So here's what I've been using for the last two years:

  • 70% black oil sunflower seed
  • 10% striped sunflower seed
  • 10% golden millet
  • 5% safflower
  • 5% peanuts

The mix isn't rocket science, or overly complicated, or expensive. Here's what we get with it:

  • Juncos (many)
  • Cardinals (many)
  • Gray nuthatch (many)
  • House sparrows (many, hooray)
  • Doves (many - product of the urban environment)
  • Song sparrows (some)
  • House finch (some)
  • Titmice (some)
  • Downy woodpeckers (many)
  • Red-belled woodpeckers (few)
  • Goldfinch (few - I think others are feeding them nyjer this winter and they didn't migrate south).

Also, we had our first winter flyover (about 10' off the ground) of our neighborhood male Coopers Hawk. He was looking fat and happy, and just looking for a dove or mouse to munch on. I have pictures of him (mid-meal) from the last few years. He usually locates the feeder around mid-December (he's late this year), and hangs around for a few weeks before moving on. Doves are his favorite. Last year he was sharing space with a lone sharp-shin hawk. Haven't seen him/her this year.

So there you have it! If I change the mix, I will let y'all know the recipe and results.

Friday, February 1, 2008


It has been a rough week, but I can't complain. Duck season is over, and the office work has to re-start in earnest. This week I have worked in the office on internal audits, grant applications, grant reports, letters to our wetland project name it. Ro and I got out yesterday to monitor some projects we built in 2007 in Maryland and Delaware - just to make sure they are actually working as habitat. Yesterday, there was ice on all of them, so no birds, but the habitat is there.

The above project is in the Delaware Bay drainage, and will be managed to provide bugs and mud for migrating shorebirds in April of every year. It gets flooded about 24" deep in the winter....coincidentally making it an outstanding duck hole. Which of course, is why the landowner ultimately agreed to let us flood up his cornfield. I know it looks like a lake, but trust me, it is all shallow.

OK - back to grown-up land: Lessons I have learned this week:
  • Communication may not solve any single problem, but at least it stops the bleeding. There are a million other metaphors I could use.
  • If there is a problem, ultimately, someone will be held responsible. Fairly or unfairly, that someone will either be someone who recently quit or fired, or someone who is experiencing other problems at work.
  • If you have fixed a problem or conflict, it suddenly gives you great leeway to talk about the source of the problem.
  • If you are TRYING to fix a problem or conflict, shut the hell up until it's fixed! The people responsible WILL be held accountable, and YOU will be at the helm....give it time!
  • Give it time! People are not as dumb as you or I may believe. Sometimes it just takes a lot of solid evidence for people to change their mind from their old preconceived notions about another person's value or abilities (good or bad).

The last one has been a difficult one for me to learn, as I watch (like in any workplace) overachievers get minimal respect, while folks who do very little, continue to barely skate by, with very few consequences. I'm starting to see, after 10 years in this field, that it all evens out....given enough time. I'm starting to actually believe that. It has nothing to do with "fair" and a lot to do with "hard work" and "patience."

Y'all have a great weekend. The honey-do list piled up during late duck season, so I will be spending the next few days hanging trim, installing TV's, and similar fun stuff.

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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...