Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from a little further south!


OK, maybe a lot further south.  Hope you all and yours are having a great time, or at least keeping safe, out of harm's way. We are scoping out some swampy locations for future vacations and having a blast. 85 degrees on Thanksgiving.  That's different.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Headed A Bit South

The fourth or fifth Wormsloe Gate (1913)

We had the opportunity to break out of the Mid-Atlantic for a little bit.  Look forward to sharing the sights, smells, and sounds with you really soon! Even if you're not a long-time River Mud reader, I bet you can figure out roughly where we are based on the photo above and below!

Evergreen magnolia - I'm proud of this picture so please don't steal it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maryland Goose? Opener 2010

A little late to be heading to the blind!
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It's finally here.  After a life-changing 10 months, it was back to the Eagle's Nest to avenge our horrible season's ending in January 2010.  Everybody was up and scuttling around the lodge by 5am.  The lodge is about 500 yards from the island blind, and let's just say that not everybody was in tip-top shape at 5am to disembark on a moving boat.  As I mentioned in my last post, sports - and even spots - tend to have their own culture, and one part of Eagle's Nest culture is that the shooting is good enough that you don't have to be ready for the day's best shooting (30 minutes before sunrise). This is counter to everything I believe in and pursue, but hey, I wasn't driving the boat. 

It did not help my attitude that while sitting on the dock at the lodge, I saw hundreds of mallards, teal or wood ducks, and diving ducks zooming around the creek in the minutes leading up to, and following, "shooting time."  Grrrr.  On the plus side, those are the first ducks I've actually seen in the creek, or at the farm, period.  I guess I bought into the old guys' statements that, "Yeah, there are no ducks in this river - it's weird."  Well, yeah, if you don't get out until the blind until 8am, you will probably not see any ducks.  Now I know.
It wasn't just ducks who were flying early - these European cowbirds were moving south in a hurry!
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Eventually, we all got in the blind and the setup was pretty reasonable - a half dozen mallard floaters and two dozen goose floaters.  About 200 geese were roosting about 300 yards upstream and eventually they got moving.  We got several close passes and good lucks, and the geese never flared, but they never committed either.  It certainly wasn't the blind itself that had them hesitating...........


Ultimately, we did have some shots and mallards, despite the "there's no ducks here" rule in effect at the farm.........

Mallard drake and mallard-black duck hybrid drake

We also had some shots on geese, but of course, this occured when two guys and one dog were out of the blind, in the decoys.  The other two of us took a few long-range shots (note to self - buy a tighter choke).  And unfortunately, the empty spaces in my shell box is my only proof of those failed opportunities!



Lucky is ready for more shooting, less talking
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Like last year, I was surprised and a little dismayed on this opening day by the lack of shooting going on around us.  The fields, ponds, and rivers all around the upper eastern shore are blanketed with goose hunters and their thousands of decoys on opening day.  Unfortunately, each year it seems to get warmer and warmer, which does not motivate the geese to get moving and find imminent death a good food source.  Other hunters were around our farm, too, and never fired a shot.  Hey, not me.  Not this time.  We are all looking forward to an actual flight of actual migratory waterfowl.  They'll be here.  Hope I'm ready!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Culture of Opening Day (and the Night Before)

Sometimes, a thing can be very familiar, and even comfortable, and yet alien. For me, the cultural ties to outdoor recreation have always been that way. Trust me, I've enjoyed fish camp, hunting camp, and even surf camps over the last 20 years, and most certainly I have enjoyed telling outright lies about my skills sharing fellowship with others in outdoor sports. However, I have never reveled in the conversations of "you wouldn't believe how drunk Bob got last year!" and "Wait 'til you see how much tequila we brought."

For me, "pre-sport" camps have always been just that - an opportunity to get local, get gear ready, and get some sleep before the big day, whether it's an incoming hurricane swell, a good moon for fishing, or the opening day of any given hunting season. Goose season opened up across the Atlantic Flyway this weekend and it was amazing to see hunters pop out of the woodwork.

A "few" people hunt geese in Maryland - ground zero of the Atlantic Population's
wintering grounds. These two hunters weren't with each other, or me.
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I left work about 30 minutes early on friday to get onto Maryland's eastern shore. With the days quite short now, I was still faced with a 90 minute drive in the dark. Which, given the fact that we routinely drive 1-2 hours to hunt, fish, or surf out here, is no big deal at all. I arrived at the gun club around 630pm and found that their (which, technically, is now "our") pre-opening day ritual was in full effect. Here are the appetizers:
Fresh Chester River oysters, a variety of venison products,
and delicious nuts and cheese. And liquor. Of course..

12 of 20 members eventually joined us for an amazing dinner, and it was clear that many of us experience our "ritual" differently. I retired to the lodge (below) after about 5 beers (around 1030pm) because I wanted to sleep well to increase my odds of shooting well the next morning. A few other guys also went to bed early, primarily because they had topped out at around 15-18 drinks and simply couldn't stand anymore. Several of them have school-age children and don't get out much (never). Several other members wanted to use the opportunity (rarely do so many of us get together during the year) to air club business and proposals from "why don't we rent a different place to stay" to "we should lease more goose fields." Also a valid use of our time. Yet others enjoyed some wine, beer, or liquor and talked shop, which for many of them, is the world of financial advising.


Home sweet lodge - survived another winter and another hurricane season
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Oddest of all, at least 2 members made the effort to join us for the evening, but were not hunting on opening morning (one due to kids' sports, one due to injury). Spending the night with friends is that important to them. It's interesting to me that the social aspect of outdoor recreation (beyond socializing while you are actually outdoors) is as important to so many folks as the actual "getting outdoors" part. This fact used to enrage me because I felt as if people weren't taking their outdoors time seriously enough. While I still feel that way on occasion, it's more of a disappointment and acquiescence.
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The fact is, many among us have killed "enough" geese, caught "enough" fish, and ridden "enough" waves to not be too upset if we miss a "perfect" day. They are just as content to share time and stories about a hundred similar days they've had over the years. I can't help but wonder if I will ever share that attitude? When do things like that cross from "impossible" to "inevitable?"
Coats, waders, and guns hung up for the night

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Refocusing on the Little Things

Black Fingered Mud Crab, Southern Maryland, 2010
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So, a few blog competitions have come and gone. In the most recent version, River Mud was deemed to be the 27th best personal blog, 7th best photography blog, and 7th best sports blog in Maryland. All of this has won me......absolutely nothing! And that's what I find so interesting.
Blog contests are enormous online popularity contests having little to do with fairness, or even quality. "How many times are my readers allowed to vote for me per day?!" is the prevailing question. And you have to wonder at some point - isn't it self-defeating for these "champion blogs" to be written by writers who work in traditional print media? Seems like a reasonable question. Regardless, I'd be lying if I told you that I don't love to win. This arena is no exception.
I'm over another set of humps at work, and now some hopefully exciting fall times are around the bend. The next two weeks will find me hunting for geese in Maryland, fishing for God-knows-what in Southwest Florida, and spending time along the Savannah, Georgia riverfront. I hope to spend a lot less time worrying about the frequency of my posts, formatting of feeds, and Google Analytics data, and more time trying to get outdoors over the next 6 or 8 weeks. Fall is here.
I look forward to your next visit!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nature Nerd Immersion in West Virginia

Potomac River, looking downstream towards Harpers Ferry, WV
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So, I'm back from the Chesapeake Watershed Forum in the West Virginia panhandle. I'm really not the "conference type" anymore, but it was a really great opportunity to talk to other folks -mostly non-profit employees and also some volunteer leaders -about how they are all trying to improve wildlife habitat and water quality in their corner of the world.
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We sat in classrooms and walked along the river. We broke bread and also some beer bottles (oops). The conversations ranged from how to reduce the construction impacts of wetland construction, to how to get more volunteers signed up for free rain barrels. The weather was just beautiful - clear, cool skies, and even in my most intense moments preparing for my own presentation/lecture, I could focus on all the smells and sounds of the remote, wooded USFWS campus. Thought I would share a few quick photos.
I don't know how we ended up with one giant cherry log for the bonfire. It gave off pure heat, so we would all have to turn occasionally. Maybe we would have thought it was an odd thing to do - if we had not been drinking.

Carolina Mantis egg case laid inside the seedpod of a Common Milkweed



Even this browning Sycamore seemed beautiful,
with its dry leaves blowing in the wind on a cloudless November day.


Cattails, how do they work?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back from the WV Panhandle

Sunset on Shepherdtown, WV

Just barely starting to cool my heals from a 3 day trip to the US Fish & Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdtown, WV. Met some great folks doing great work to restore wildlife habitat & water quality, and ended up being the last on the bill of speakers today. Glad to be home.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City Sweet Potatoes

$3 of Beauregard slips from Bowen Farm Supply netted 3 gallons of sweet potatoes
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Finally healthy enough to steal over to the garden for a bit, I saw that the light frosts last week did in the tender vegetation of my sweet potatoes. I went ahead and pulled them and - especially since it's my first time growing them - I was surprised by a number of things.
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First, for all the luscious green vegetation that grew 10 to 15 feet from the original slips, all of the tubers were located on growth that occured probably within 3 feet of the original planting. What a waste of garden space! Second, I couldn't tell any difference in size and appearance between potatoes planted in soft compost in my raised bed, and those planted in hard, old ground (extra slips). Doubt they'll taste different, either. It would appear that the compost just fertilized more vine growth - not more potatoes. There was also a huge variety of sizes and shapes, including the Mother of all Sweet Potatoes:

Seriously, it's nearly a foot long
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I can also tell that there's been some pest damage - go figure - these potatoes have been underground for 6 months. Since it's already cold, no worms, larvae, or beetles were immediately apparent, so I'm not sure who the main culprits are. Some potatoes were covered in nickel-sized cavities that seem like they were made by something big (or fat). Who knows? Hopefully I won't find out when I start slicing potatoes!
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As I said, we are slowly recovering from a norovirus outbreak that hit all 5 kids at the daycare, all 10 parents, and the daycare lady. Hank found my bucket of dirty potatoes so I think he's already forgotten about being sick!


I do not stay still, ever

Sunday, November 7, 2010

When the Little Things Slow You Down


I mean, the really little things. Like this tiny stomach virus, likely norovirus, that has set up shop in our house. We had some fun outdoor stuff planned for the weekend, but it's just not happening. What did I do to deserve a stomach virus that makes my spine hurt?
And.....it's nap time.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fishing at the Prison

Looks fishy...right? Small pond in the Severn River's headwaters
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Fall is upon us. The change of the leaves has been less than spectacular due to the June - September drought. Final preparations are being made at the farm for the beginning of goose season (now 15 days away). Plans are being made for family pictures to be inserted in Christmas cards. Thanksgiving plans are finalized (well, mostly). The leaves need to be raked. It's autumn. Wish I could actually get outside.....

Our family's schedule has been tossed for a loop because Hank has come down with a pretty magnificent stomach flu. We are now more than 24 hours past the last of the Toddler Barfs, but he's not real happy. And sometimes, as I've mentioned before , you just have to take advantage of any scrap of free time you can get. So, I ran over to a pond I've been meaning to fish for 5 years. In fact, I've been driving past it to work nearly every day for 5 years. I haven't fished it for one major reason - it is 100% covered by lily pads and other vegetation from about May 1 to October 1, every year. Hmmm...the water's awful fertile..... and nobody ever seems to fish there....

Well, this spot happens to be downstream of the local prison's wastewater filter. Yum. And that is another minor reason I haven't fished it! But as my long-time readers may recall, I ain't afraid to fish at a prison. Plus, it's on County property, and there are no "NO" signs (trespassing, fishing, or even the ubiquitous "no parking both ways as far as the eye can see" sign employed as a catch-all throughout Maryland..bastards). So that's kind of public. Let's go fishing!

The habitat, from a structural standpoint, was of much higher quality than the spots I tried in the Gunpowder River recently. There are a variety of floating and emergent aquatic vegetation stands, beaver-killed stumps, and tons of logs. Good stuff. From a water quality standpoint, it doesn't seem much nastier than the Gunpowder, which is sad. It was a little cloudy, but certainly seemed like reasonable fish habitat nonetheless - click on the picture above!

Unfortunately, this 20 minute adventure was a total bust. I didn't see a single baitfish. Didn't see any gamefish of any variety, and I nearly lost a bunch of tackle in the dying vegetation and exposed stumps. I have a feeling that if I would have spent an hour or two there, and if I was more focused on technique than the very real risk of a quickly-elevating confrontation with the prison warden, state police, or local cops, I might have caught a big fish or two.

I'll save it for next time. I found a nearby fully legal parking spot that will allow me to fish down in the weeds without a giant bullseye (my truck) sitting up on the hill, alerting the entire world to my presence. I'll catch a big fish there. Just you wait.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Got them Lower Gunpowder Blues


Looks a bit different than my last visit!
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I had the tiniest of windows in which to run down to the scene of 2010's only skunked fishing day. So of course, I did. The Gunpowder River is an amazing river, and it's beautiful too. Over the years, I've seen a lot of big fish in it, from trophy rainbow trout in the Upper Gunpowder, to striped bass in the lower River, to trophy smallmouth in Loch Raven Reservoir, which impounds the river just above the Fall Line. And while I've had many fun days and have caught hundreds or more fish on those stretches of river over the last 10 years, those many-specied big fish have totally eluded my hook and line. The day's conditions - falling barometer, cool air, warm water, and no rain in the last week - certainly favored some fishing success. Or so I thought.

36" deep semi-buoyant layer of rotting algae, aquatic plants, and leaves
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This summer's drought produced an epic crop of aquatic vegetation in the upper Chesapeake Bay. Good for water quality. Good for fish. Good for crabs. Really tough for fishing. A lot of fishing days this year were spent avoiding or alternately, cursing, this year's amazing productivity of leafy wet stuff.
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The plants are dying back in the Gunpowder, but now it doesn't "look" like fish habitat at all. I was even wondering about oxygen levels with the huge amount of decay. There is no boat access in this stretch of river, so the channel edge (where the fish probably were) is kind of unreachable. Ugh. I've fished this spot fairly productively since 2002, never landing large fish, but having great luck over shallow water and under tree limbs. I'm not sure why the last couple of trips have been such a bust.
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It was clear that this section of river was just not happening today, so I packed up really quick and tripped up to the upper dam and.....the fabulous world that is reservoir fishing.
The new Loch Raven Upper Dam, completed in 2005
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Loch Raven Reservoir is a good fishery. Maybe even a great fishery. But the fish act weird sometimes. The DNR fishing report (which of course, I checked after I went fishing) states that fishing in the reservoir is "on fire at depths 18-20' over structure." Hmm. I doubt that too many folks have fish finders on their boats in the reservoir - county regulations prohibit all outboard motors. And with the reservoir still down 4-6 feet from normal, you are just not going to cast into that kind of depth from shoreline. But I still gave it a chance.
Easiest access there is!
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Recall that I had very little time for this whole extravaganza......and I was getting desperate. I hit up a massively overfished part of the reservoir, at a point where a 48" drain pipe enters the reservoir. But, because of the drought, the drain pipe is actually 8 feet up in the air, and 30 feet inland of the water's edge. Double ugh. I gave it my best shot, but that exposed bench of rock, which is usually 6-8' below water, was now only 2' deep. No fish at all. Let's go to work.
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I don't know why this river continues to hex and vex me, but I will beat it.
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Next year.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Maryland's Best Sports Blog!...........?..........!


I mean, could that really be accurate?

And now WAIT - you thought that was a moment of humility? Ha! The River Mud Blog has been nominated by the kind editorial staff of the Baltimore Sun as one of Maryland's Outstanding Blogs (MOBs or Mobbies, as they call them). In the "Sports" category - which is where it quickly gets interesting. As you probably know, what I write about - and what I care about - goes far beyond sports, and even a little beyond the outdoors (okay.....rarely). But honestly, where else other than "sports" would I fit in? - without a "nature dork" or an "eco-redneck" or at the minimum an "outdoors" category (in which I would destroy any hint of competition, thankyouverymuch), there's no amazing categorical home for the River Mud Blog.

There are about a dozen blogs nominated in the "sports" category and other than this blog and one guy's 5K running blog, the other 10 are focused on all things Ravens, Orioles, and University of Maryland Terrapins. What's worse (in my opinion) is that some of the bloggers are professional sports writers, and their employers (news agencies and the like) run the blogs for them. ...........insert wussy complaint about fairness..........

So please run on over the Baltimore Sun MOB voting site (you can vote with your facebook or other ID) and let them know how you feel about the entries for "Best Sports Blog!"

Update....or "Best Photography Blog" or "Best Personal Blog" in which categories I'm also nominated!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Explosion of Cuteness!

Hank would like to tell you all about Biscuit's Pet and Play Halloween.
Unfortunately he only has a vocabulary of 4 words.

This was our first halloween that was a real "parent" halloween. It was freaking exhausting. I mean, last year technically we were parents, but Hank laid around like a little bug and we proceeded to drink a lot. Which I've heard is a sign of good parenting skill. This year is different. The bug walks - nearly runs - and is interested in everything and afraid of nothing. Look out, world!

Hank scoping out the big kids' rides at the Maryland Zoo's Zoo Boo. Nice lean!
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The first thing we did for Official Parenting Halloween 2010 was to take Hank over to a child-appropriate Halloween event with Professional Security. We selected the Maryland Zoo's Zoo Boo. At $14 per adult, it was not cheap, and did not come with food or drink. This is what it means to be a parent. No half-price Atomic Death Wings, no free Jaeger Bombs, and definitely no lap dances included with that price.
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I'm ashamed to admit we'd never been to the Maryland Zoo. But with the DC Zoo (at 4x the size, run by the Smithsonian Institute, and internationally known for its exhibits and wildlife) only 35 miles down the road (and free admission), why mess with the Maryland Zoo at $14 per person? Well, a lot of parenty-type reasons, which start with the fact that Hank overslept his normal nap time by 2 hours, allowing us to travel the 5 miles to the Maryland Zoo in time to catch the last 90 minutes of the all-day Zoo Boo. Had we selected a similar event at the DC Zoo, we would have missed it entirely.
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But there was another reason - something that comes up in my posts from time to time. The Maryland Zoo's charges $14 for admittance.

Result - the facilities were immaculate. No trash ANYWHERE. Despite the place being overrun by kids and families. Everything was clean. Everything was where it was supposed to be. Nothing was poopier than one would expect a zoo facility to be. And because the place is surrounded by a 10' razor wire fence - get this - you might not feel like someone is going to swipe your child at any moment. Which is the tiniest bit relaxing, whether you live in Manhattan NYC or Manhattan, Kansas.

On sunday, it was more of the same - headed over to the Halloween Kidstravaganza at the local Tot Lot, where it was determined that playing in the sand was more fun than trick-or-treating.

Then we walked as fast as possible with dangerous sharp sticks!

And other times, we just walked away, period.

Oh, the humanity