Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Buzz-birds of Two Kinds

Someone asked me recently when hummingbird feeders should be taken down, to insure that hummingbirds would migrate on time and not be caught in a winter snap of some sort. I once believed that was important, but I realize now that leaving feeders filled with liquid has nothing to do with delaying the little bird’s migration flight. It doesn’t.

Migration is triggered by dwindling light, and the change of many factors as fall moves closer. Hummingbirds may indeed die at any stage of their migration, as thousands of birds will, through natural causes due to age more than anything else, but they aren’t going to stay too late because feeders are left up. 

If you don’t believe me, just leave feeders full and watch what happens. The hummingbirds will leave anyway. I am not sure that they aren’t made stronger for their migration flight by the existence of such feeders, as natural food dwindles with the absence of blossoms they seek. So don’t worry about causing a problem for the little buzz-birds. That theory has been spread mostly by the master naturalists who spend more time in books than they do outdoors.

I saw a good indication of that recently when one of the state’s newspapers carried a story about teal hunting. Blue-winged teal migrate earlier than other ducks, and so there is a special hunting season for them in mid-September. The newspaper’s outdoor page showed two photos of blue-winged teal, but they were both drakes in spring plumage.

In the spring, the males are indeed a beautiful bird, but in September they look NOTHING like those pictures. I doubt if anyone associated with city newspapers would know that. In September, there are none of those markings, and teal are as drab as most other marsh birds. Only the wing panels have any color.

Beginning hunters who do not know what they are looking at need to know that hen wood ducks and hen pintails and gadwalls might look a little like teal in September, but once you have a knowledge of waterfowl species and how they fly, you won’t mistake them.

I have hunted teal since I was a teenager, when that special season was first instigated, and I enjoy it tremendously, but there are problems with wood ducks being confused with teal, even though in general their habitats and habits are far different.

The early flights of teal are likely 90 percent blue-wings, but there are always a few green-winged teal in September hunts. That is strange because green wings are one of the latest migrators, coming through our area in December with the late flocks of northern mallards. Both species are very small, but the meat is as good as that of any wild ducks. I usually skin my teal, cut the breasts in strips about the size of my little finger and fry them with some onions and Lawry’s seasoned salt. The legs and wings are just about too small to eat, but there’s a little meat on them too.

In my latter years of college, I was determined to be a waterfowl biologist, because I have always been so fascinated with wild ducks and geese. My dad and grandfather and I hunted them when I was only ten or eleven years old.

For a time, I was the waterfowl editor for Gun Dog Magazine, and I hunted with many knowledgeable and experienced waterfowl hunters. Most all of them could tell at a glance any species flying past within 50 yards.

But if you are a real expert, you can look at a flock of ducks a couple of hundred yards away and pretty much know what species they are, from size, shape and speed, and wing beat, even when you can’t see their colors. If you hunt blue-winged teal the next week or so, remember that they will look nothing like the photos shown on outdoor pages of larger newspapers. Those are spring plumage photos, and nothing similar to what a

September teal is. It is a bad situation when young duck hunters go out to hunt ducks and aren’t sure which species are which. It’s even worse when young conservation agents don’t know a mallard hen from a drake gadwall. A year or so ago a couple of my friends were checked by a young female agent on the James River to whom they had to give a crash course in duck identification. She had a book to tell her what the bag limits were but they had four species of ducks and she didn’t know what any of them were.

Folks expect conservation agents to know a great deal about the outdoors, and the older ones did. Many of the younger ones do not. A reader called me this week to tell me that he had heard a conservation agent on a Texas County radio station telling folks that while bullfrogs were indeed good to eat, they were also great bait for “troutlines”. In all my years of trotlining for flathead catfish or blues or channels, I never ever heard of any trotliners using bullfrogs for bait.

I can’t even imagine that. It would be comparable to using ripe red tomatoes to throw at squirrels and rabbits in place of regular ammunition. Comparable to using pecan pies for deer bait! Big flatheads sought after by trotline, or what he referred to as ‘troutline’ fishermen, seldom take dead bait. You catch them on live bait and live frogs held under water for a short period of time will be dead.

I cannot imagine someone doing that to any living creature, even a mouse. Any catfish caught on a bullfrog would be just as easy to catch on any of a dozen other kinds of bait. In fact, I will have to check the laws, but I think it might be illegal to use bullfrogs on trotlines if you look through the fine print. It is illegal to use any gamefish for trotline bait, and even sunfish, one of the best baits for flatheads and other species, must be under a certain length.

If bullfrogs are legal as bait, it is a bad situation, because year after they become scarcer and scarcer. On streams where I found bullfrogs in abundance as a boy in late summer, there are perhaps about twenty percent of the bullfrogs in most of them that there were forty years ago. In another column, I will go into some of the many reasons why bullfrog numbers are declining, but while I understand why any of us would love to have a skillet full of bullfrogs, please don’t use them for ‘troutline’ bait.

You might be interested in knowing that the first frost is only 38 days away, so it might be a good idea to go down to the pond or creek and take one last swim. One of my old friends was sitting on his porch last week with tears running down his face. I asked if there had been a death in the family or something of that sort. He told me he was crying because he had just eaten the last tomato out of his garden.

These are tough times for those of us who have gardens and love garden produce, but you have to remember that winter has good times too. Thanksgiving and Christmas are ahead, rabbit hunting in the snow, and walking woodland trails with no snakes, no spider webs and no ticks. God has given us six or seven seasons to enjoy for their variety, not just four. And the best of them all, as I see it, is the one we have now, and all those we are going to have.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge @windstream.net. To see what our new fall magazines look like, go to my website… www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com

No comments: