Troutbirder II

Troutbirder II
Click on Mark Twain to jump to Troutbirders book review blog

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ribbon Cutting

Several hundred people were gathered along a new overlook in Minnesota, near the Iowa border, south of Brownsville. Across the river, clouded in mist, lay Wisconsin.

A yellow ribbon lay across a corner of the turnout, behind which stood a number of dignitaries. They represented numerous conservation groups, government agencies and private corporations. All had been involved, one way or another, in the building of the overlook.. State Senator Sharon Ropes speaks of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge and what it means for all of us.
As Mrs T, Loretta and I parked along the highway, under the direction of state troopers, we heard a rather loud and strange sound emanating from the river. I think it was some sort of excited yet friendly conversation among some visitors from the far north.
Here, we were to witness a world class event in the world of natures wonders. Coming from the arctic north, in their thousands, tundra swans had stopped to refuel and rest, before continuing their journey to Chesapeake Bay, far to the southeast.
With the construction of the lock and dam system on the river in the 1930's, many of the natural aspects of the river have changed. One of these is the wave action of the increased open spaces. Many islands have disappeared. Because of this, many of the plants and tubers the swans fed on also disappeared. Now man is undoing the damage and helping the birds, by using dredge material from the main channel to rebuild these islands. Here you can see one of the many artificial islands providing a resting place and shelter from the wind and renewed food supplies.

The new overlook provides a safe place for people to turn out to see and photograph the swans.

Mrs. T (a.k.a. Queen B) now successfully cruising around with a cane and camera.
Loretta spots some opportunistic eagles resting comfortably far out in the river on an artificial island.

Previously people would park along the shoulder endangering themselves and passing vehicles.
Way to go DNR and Army Corps of Engineers. We make an annual trip along the river to see this amazing sight. It never grows old.
Thanks Mother Nature!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pheasant Hunting

I went pheasant hunting today with my longtime hunting partner Rick. Well, to tell the truth, he had his shotgun and I was carrying my camera. It had been a long time since we tramped the fields together in search of the elusive ringneck Let’s go back to the beginning.

I grew up in the city and hunting was not part of my youthful experience. My father had hunted a little back in thirties and then lost interest. When I got my first teaching job and moved to rural small town Minnesota, he gave me his double barreled sixteen gauge shotgun. Mrs T and I decided on getting a dog. Kids would come later. The dog was Max. He was half golden retriever and half German shorthaired pointer. If the book Marley hadn’t already been written, I could have done it myself, based on Max’s exploits. He looked just like a big golden lab. And later proved, among other things. to be an amazing hunter.

Max The Wonder Dog

I tried upland game hunting a few times but had indifferent success at best. Then Rick joined the staff as our American History teacher. He was a pro when it came to hunting and I learned a lot. Thirty some years of successful pheasant and grouse hunting followed.

Back from grouse hunting.

Later, when my old football knee became so bad that I couldn’t walk safely anymore on uneven ground, I had to give it up. I then took up duck and goose hunting from a blind for a while and enjoyed that as well. Seeing a flock of honkers turn and come in to the decoys, as you called for them, was always fun.

The best memories though and the stories that go with them usually involve, somehow, my hunting dogs. Max The Wonder Dog, then Chessie and Muffy, the Chesapeake Bay retrievers.

Chessie von Milville

Pheasant hunting with gun or camera Nov. 9, 2009

Eighty acres of public hunting, restored wildlife habitat provided by the organization Pheasants Forever and the Minnesota DNR

As the sun set and it was time to call it a day, I reflected on the fact that a few years ago, after my knee replacement, I had decided to go in a different direction. A friend introduced me to birding, I got a digital camera, some binoculars and a non hunting GSD - Baron. You can find me afield year around now. Tramping the trails and woods, the parks and prairies, still hunting birds or whatever of Mother Natures bounty catches my fancy. Today, I went pheasant hunting with Rick again. A hike through the nostalgia of great memories and my younger years. But I am just as fond today of the new memories being created each time I grab my camera and round up my big puppy saying "hey Baron, let’s go for a walk."

Friday, November 6, 2009

No Fishing

I didn't get out flyfishing as much this year as I have in the past. There were lots of reasons for this but possibly the main ones were my dog and my birding. Baron is now 2 1/2. He needs lots of exercise. I also took up birding two years ago. It all fit together. We hike a lot. I bring my camera and binocs. And following a path along trout streams winding thru the woods is a great place to hike. Perfect! It's quiet... really quiet except for the birds having there spring fling. Warblers everywhere. And others almost beyond counting. What a setting. Take a look.

I don't think having a large dog romping around thru the woods in front of you is standard birding technique. Still, years of upland game hunting for pheasants and ruffed grouse make it seem quite normal to me. Baron flushes the tiny birds and they often fly in my direction as not. Now I know where to look for them with my binocs as they land in nearby trees.

I watch carefully when he starts sniffing the ground too carefully. Chasing deer is not acceptable. Then, as he and I learned later in the fall, investigating skunks isn't so great an idea either.
These crystal clear, cold streams, orginate from springs. This limestone (karst) region is full of disappearing rivers, caves, sinkholes and bubbling springs. Here is one in a nearby state park. Water cress is often an indicator of such a spring.
I come to a spot where two streams join. The water is too deep for my waders. Baron swims across and looks back expecting me to follow. Fortunately their is an old abandoned bridge, which carried some long forgotten road. Now it allows me to easily reach the other side.
I did see some nice brown trout along the way. I marked the spots in my mind, planning on coming back for them another day. In the meantime, Baron and I headed back to the camper. Mrs. T. mentioned something about steak for dinner. Come on pup. Time to go.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The neighborhood surrounding our little abode is known as Oak Hill. Naturally, with the exception of a few white pines I planted, it's mainly large mature oak trees. The oaks consist of white, burr and a few reds. They shade and shelter us. On occasion they draw lightening bolts. Overall I love their strength and beauty. Except....

Except for one little thing. Acorns. It was a great year for acorns. Last year a friend asked for a few acorns in the fall. Zip. I couldn't find a one

By Brigid SchulteWashington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 30, 2008
The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.
"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."
The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."
To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.
"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."
Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called "No acorns this year," reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."
Jennifer Klepper of Annapolis even blogged about it. "Last year our trees shot down so many acorns that you were taking your life into your own hands if you went outside without a crash helmet on," she wrote this month. "But this year? Forget it."

Garris started calling nurseries. "I was worried they'd think I was crazy. But they said I wasn't the only one calling who was concerned about it," she said. "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."
Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. "It's sort of a mystery," Zell said."

This year.... well take a look at my deck. Every day for weeks it looked liked this.

And every day I swept it clean. No walking in the back yard with bare feet. Ouch! Was I happy about this situation? No way. Was anybody happy about this situation? I guess so!