Friday, May 30, 2008

How Does the Garden Grow?

(pix tomorrow)

I have no idea what's going on in the weather. We had a very mild and warm late winter/early spring, and then a straight month of rain and cool temperatures (April), and now we are essentially into summer weather. I'm perplexed: all of our blackberries (6 different varieties, 20+ plants) have set fruit.

And the elderberries are 8' tall (I cut the stalks to 12" every February), and ready to bloom.

And the spiderwort has grown so tall that it FELL OVER.....and then bloomed.

The herbs, especially the mints, are all growing out of control. It begs the question - what next?

I'm anticipating a hot, dry summer.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fishing Lake Hick'ry

Fish heaven: deep channel bordered by a steep sandbar and a sunken brick seawall!

Got an opportunity to fish a point bar on Lake Hickory, an impounded section of the Catawba River. The spot was hooked up by friend Rob and his son Alex. Water was a little cloudy and the only serious action I got was from a rubber frog lure, which the fish would only attack when I allowed it to settle to the bottom, and then jerk in. Rob and Alex stuck with live bait and had only a little better luck (catching white perch and redbreasted sunfish). A quick walk up a tributary revealed why - wall to wall sunfish and bass nests in shallow, warm water. The spawn is on! I would love to be able to say that "I don't pursue nesting fish because of ethical reasons" but the truth is that I have always found spawning/nesting fish to be extremely fickle and more difficult to catch than even deep winter fish, so I generally just leave nesting fish alone.

Wonderful nest pic stolen from

Very slow morning but it was great to be fishing with no deadlines, no traffic waiting, and nowhere else to be!

This Boomhauer - type individual kept hauling ass up and down the lake in his totally awesome pontoon boat from 1977! Don't scare them danged ol' bass, ol' boy! At least once the pontoon boat sinks, there will be a little bit more submerged structure out there for the fish.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fishing 99 to Life at the Foothills Prison!

From the air....

In the past, I've been very pleased with myself for my ability to find, fish, hunt, and hike places where other folks haven't been. When I checked the NC Wildlife Commission home page, I found a new spot, recently turned over to the commission from the NC Prisons Commission.

Brother-in-law Preston and I headed down there this morning to see what it was all about. Threaded inbetween the maximum security prison and the juvenile detention facility was a small gravel road which leads to two ponds. We set up with my favorite indicator lure (gitzit minnow, chartreuse/white/silver) and Preston's favorite indicator lure (white and gray rooster tail). Right off the bat it was pretty obvious that the ponds get a lot of fishing pressure. We had panfish and small bass repeatedly following and attacking our lures, but with some real hesitation. We switched up lures repeatedly and were hitting structure (mostly logs and stumps in depths of 4 to 6 feet. Fish were interested in surface feeding, but not feeding on any of the floating spinning flies, poppers, rapalas, or other surface lures we had (and we had plenty). I think traditional fly fishing or straight up bait fishing (bobber and all) is the call here. In fact,

Fly Fishing Magazine has already been there and done that.
There was a deep channel between the two ponds with a lot of woody debris in it. I also saw a lot of fish moving in it, and tried my luck. On about the third cast, I came up with a 13" white catfish, which I released back into his swampy hole.
I was a little disappointed by the amount of worm containers and beer cans laying around (seeing as how this is state property NEXT TO A PRISON). Nonetheless, it was a super laid back morning and we caught a few fish. Sounds like a good day to me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Norf Cackillacky!

Hellz no I don't love NC Hip Hop! I had no idea that such a thing existed. I myself am a product of the land of the Neptunes, Clipse, and Michael Vick! Which is the 757!

OK enough silliness. After a RUTHLESS but short week (47 hours in 4 days), we are taking friday off and driving to western North Carolina, the land of (besides, apparently, hip hop) large trucks (my tacoma on offroad 31's doesn't rate!), largemouth bass, pulled pork BBQ, and people who are intensely serious Southern Baptists. I am talking 36 baptist churches in one county (according to Anyway, I am looking forward to some good fishing. We've been rained out over, and over, and over again up here in Maryland over the last two weeks.

Some words from Mojo:

Gonna go back home, back to Carolina

Gonna go back home and see my Dad

Gonna go back home, back to Carolina,

Gonna go back to those things I had

I wanna back where the barbeque's good

Racecars run like they should

Wanna go back where the trees are green

Ain't no hipsters makin' no scene

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chigger Mania

Well, another thing that should have come under the headings of "turkey habitat" and "oak-pine forest" is the phrase "excessive populations of invertebrates, including several species of ticks and chiggers."

Many of you northern folks may not have had the *divine* pleasure of experiencing a chigger bite. And for the record, they are like carnies, travelling in bands of thousands, and creating mischief and havoc as they go. So you never get "just one chigger bite."

So, what is a chigger? I'll try to describe it first, and then link some more reliable information! Chiggers are just larvae of normal forest mites that you see crawling around on leaves and plants. During the larval stage, they bite (and chew) on anything with warm blood. They really love sick or wounded birds! I've always been told (read: you better research this yourself) that humans and chiggers are very negatively reactive to each other, meaning that when a chigger bites you, your body responds with antibodies that probably kill the chigger within hours. However, the chigger's saliva in your skin causes all hell to break loose, causing a typical "bug bite." Unlike a tick bite, there's nothing left. Just chigger spit. How scientific was that?

As already pointed out, it is the saliva of the chigger that causes the intense itching, not the animal itself. But, the worst of the itching isn’t felt for up to 24 to 48 hours after exposure – long after you’re away from the infection site. Once you begin to notice the itching, the mites are often long gone and no longer an issue so the common practice of applying clear fingernail polish to kill the chiggers is pointless. Knowing this delayed time from attachment of the chigger to itch is helpful in figuring out where you were exposed to the chiggers and thus makes it possible to avoid or take remedial action in the future.

Inventory of chigger bites from tuesday's turkey hunt:

Left knee (9 bites)
Left achiles (1 bite with secondary infection - shown above)
right pectoral (3 bites)
left armpit (1 bite)

I think we will be sticking to fishing and surfing for the next 4 months!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In the Pines, in the Pines

Without forest fire, eastern box turtles have trouble moving through the forest

I celebrated my last planned turkey hunt of the spring by taking some photos of a common but interesting habitat out here in the mid-atlantic - marginally wet oak-pine forest! And of course, I also celebrated the hunt by NOT harvesting a turkey........again. Oh well!

Oak-pine is somewhat of a climax forest out here, so here's how it gets that way: a forest stand is destroyed or "highly disturbed" by one of our four major natural forces here:
  • saltwater flooding during a hurricane - kills most plant life
  • wind throw - opens canopy for more aggressive pioneer species
  • ice fall - same as above
  • forest fire (lightning induced) - total destruction and soil fertilization!

The first (native) trees to come back on the coastal plain are Loblolly pine. Due to their tolerance for disturbance, they often are the only trees to immediately recolonize an area. This colonization historically resulted in a now rare habitat on the east coast: pine savannah.

However, since flooding and fire are mitigated to some extent in our current society (think dams and Smoky the Bear), this habitat is being replaced with less disturbance-tolerant plant communities, such as Oak-Pine forest. As the canopy closes in, some really neat understory plants and wildlife recolonize the site. These forests are productive in extremely poor soils (flooded to xeric), and the plants tend to exacerbate soil conditions by shedding very acidic leaves. In vernal pools, you can see the tannic acid:

Here are some shots from today's hunting spot (an oak-pine forest managed for occasional pulp production):

Loblolly Pine.

Swamp Azalea. This one has been mangled by the large deer herd in this forest stand.

Sweet Pepperbush. One of my favorites.

American Holly. What a great songbird plant.

Highbush Blueberry. Enough said.

Red-backed Salamander - rare leadback phase!!! Would have been an amazing score, had my camera been interested in focusing....time for a new camera.

The turkey hunting spot

Other species I was really looking for but couldn't immediately locate are Northern Spicebush, Sassafras, Black Oak, Club Moss, and Poison Ivy. And one more...what was it? OH YEAH, the Eastern Wild Turkey! Maybe next spring.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Drying Out

Tools of the Trade: Gore-Tex Camo, Muck Boots, Sport Coat, Hotel Room.

What an interesting run of days that was! Extreme travel + uneventful birding, hunting, and fishing makes for pretty boring blogging. Got skunked while turkey hunting this very turkey-licious spot:

Heard two gobblers, but one was headed down into the swamp, and the other one was already down in the swamp.

Saltwater fishing on the shallows of the Poquoson River was not much more productive:

Bye-bye, $7 swim bait. A bluefish apparently thought it would be tasty. We (the boat) landed one fish, an 18" flounder (legal minimum is 19"). That's it.

Oh well, I am going to make like Tugg here, and take a nap until the weather clears out a little more. 5 straight days of much-needed rain!

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