Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cluster F*** On Ice

Air: 19 degrees, Water: 32 degrees. Ice: 1/4". What could go wrong?

Set out for an early morning out in the timber with Tugboatdude and Nate. In most years, we receive our first "true freeze" the second or third week of January. The last time we received one earlier in the season, it was the first week of January, and that was 2002! So imagine our surprise when, two days before TBD's arrival, the temperature drops to 19 degrees, and does not get above 34 for three days in a row. Since we've really only received one flight of birds so far, it was hard to know what the effects of this weather would be.

Well, we found out. We spent a half-hour slogging through 1/3" thick ice into the timber, and I think we had a nice little setup - about 8 woodie decoys, 5 oversized black ducks, 3 mallards, 3 full body black ducks, and the baby mojo. What could go wrong? Well, honestly, nothing really did go wrong. Nothing much happened at all. Saw a few single birds but they were roosting pretty hard on the river and not getting up. This is unusual because in weather that cold, the birds have to feed somewhere, even if it's just up and down the river. Geese were staying quiet on the river and were just not interested. We had a good time shooting the bull and just hanging out. Everybody was well dressed for the 23 degree morning so we were all pretty comfortable, despite the fact that we had to keep breaking ice out in the decoy spread.

I was comfortable, at least, until I smashed the ice over a beaver run. The pictures are out of order so start at the bottom.

The aftermath. And for the action shot............wait for it........
........wait for it............

The Piece de Resistance: Lost my footing and swamped my waders. Water in my right boot. Foot numb about 4 minutes later. 1 mile from the truck.

I think that about sums it up. Take away the frostbite and the cold I already had (!!!) and add a cigar, and it would have been a perfectly enjoyable morning in the swamp.

Bow Hunt #2

Still chasing the herd on the same farm. And suffered a loss at the hands of one of the most obvious rules in the outdoors - "stick with your plan until you are SURE it will fail. Change up early, and both the old and new plans are nearly guaranteed to fail."

So that's what happened. I knew from scouting that the deer were likely to use a field I'd already hunted. Problem with that hunt was that they use the field in the evening, and I was hunting in the morning. Well, here was my chance for an evening hunt. Just stick with the program.

Instead, at the last second, I broke towards one of the rear fields and a seldom-used stand because I had seen a large number of tracks through the harvested field. I had no recon on exactly WHEN those deer were moving through, but .....I don't know, I can't explain it. I was drawn to that field.

A number of factors, namely a stiff headwind that pushed my scent into the woods behind me, did not help with this hunt. Then again, I woke myself up snoring at one point around 4:30pm, so who knows? A cold snap was settling in and the deer SHOULD have been moving, but shooting time ended and I hadn't seen a single deer - a rare occurrence for a deer hunt in Maryland. I removed my arrow from the nock, loaded my pack, and climbed down, ready for the hike back up to the front of the property (and past the stand I meant to hunt). By this time, it was really dark, but there was a little moonlight.

As I crossed the front field and looked across it toward the area of the other stand, I saw 30-40 large "bumps" in the dark field. Since the field was harvested recently, and since the crop was soybeans, there should have been NO rise and fall in that field. I stood still and looked out into the dark. The bumps began to move - at least 30 deer, over 100 yards out into a field, in an area where they would have had to walk right past the stand I had meant to hunt. The fact that they were so far out in the open, 20 minutes after shooting hours ended, means that they were certainly rustling around on the woods edge (location of the stand) much earlier than that.

Oh well - I'll get 'em one of these days.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Maryland AP Goose Hunt

(more pictures soon)

Enjoyed a fun morning out with two coworkers on Kent Island, a small spit of land bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Chester River in Maryland. The island has been moderately developed over the last 20 years, so in the place of large farms are now small farmettes and a few subdivisions. We hunted a 12-acre soybean field between two salt creeks where a mix of resident and migratory geese are roosting at night. To the east, across the Chester River, are larger corporate and family farms where the geese feed twice a day (and sometimes at night). So obviously, the trick is to entice these birds to use the fields near the roost. To aid us in our quest, we hunted over about 5 dozen goose "stuffers" (see above), which are stuffed geese supported by wire, and mounted on small plywood boards. For concealment, we used an A-frame blind against a hedgerow, grassed with fresh cedar branches and switchgrass.
It was a moderately cold morning (about 30 degrees) and the geese were on the move about 30 minutes after sunrise. It wasn't cold enough to motivate them to really feed, so most of the birds were getting up off of the water, flying around, and landing back in one of the creeks without setting down to eat in the fields. We shot our first birds around 9am, another triple at 9:45am, and our last bird (no thanks to my shooting) at 11am, which placed us right at our limit. Then it was back to work, on the road. Great morning & a great start to goose season!

The farm we hunted is near the southern tip of the island

Monday, November 3, 2008

Allaying Wetland Restoration Concerns Part II

A (heavily monitored!!) restored wetland in North Carolina.
Courtesy: North Carolina State University
So, I started looking last time at "why we do what we do" in the field of wetland restoration. Last time, I discussed the perceived problem that wetlands attract and hold mosquitos. While it's true that any system that is out of balance (like a bucket in your yard) can harbor mosquitos, a healthy wetland should kill as many mosquitos as it creates.
Onward and upward. Another frequent issue is that people want a "wetland," but they do not want a WETLAND. And yes, folks describe it in those terms. They usually mean one of three things:
1. They would like a fish pond
2. They would like a corn field that they can flood during duck season
3. They would like a shallow, mowed/grazed watering hole for livestock
All of those things have their place in our landscape, but none of them are wetlands. Why not? Let's back up just a moment.
A wetland is a type of habitat. A healthy restored habitat should contain food, water, and cover for its intended wildlife (always start with the end in mind, right??)
So, what are the typical intended wildlife for a restored wetland?
  • wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl
  • amphibians and reptiles
  • aquatic insects and invertebrates

All of these species need water, cover from predators, and food. Now look back at the picture at the top of the post. See how overgrown it looks? That's one mark of a sustainable restored wetland. Another mark is that all those plants should be food producing, which is a little less evident from the photo. If you review my past posts, especially my duck hunting posts, you can see that my photos zero in on waterfowl food. If you are duck hunting and there's not sufficient food (and trust me, they know it), then all you have to offer birds is open water, of which there is no shortage!

The same is true for all wildlife. If there is food, but no cover, they will visit, but not stay. If there's cover, but no food or no water, they may stay the night, but will rarely spend time in the habitat.

So look at the "old weedy mess" in the picture above, and know that even though "you can't see the water!" (what a travesty!), and it looks like a "jumbled weedy mess," having food, water, and cover together in one place is the only sustainable way to make a wild place really work for wildlife.

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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...