Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Silence in the Night

I really believe that the whippoorwill and it’s larger relative, the chuck-will’s-widow, are two birds that are headed for possible extinction or something close to it. I know that to some that sounds pretty extreme but those who live in the country where woodlands are near, know what I am talking about.
       I am getting letters from Wright and Texas counties saying there seems to be none of them to be heard anywhere.  I use to camp on river gravel bars and hear a half dozen of those mesmerizing night birds calling their repetitive song around me, and go to sleep listening to them.

       Now you may float the rivers and camp in a different place every night and be lucky to hear one. Here on Lightnin’ Ridge twenty years ago, you could figure on hearing both birds, and several of them, in the big woods beyond my home and office. This summer as last, there were none. Not one of either.  Without the two, the night-time woods is a place too quiet, empty and dark.

       The reason behind their diminishing numbers is pretty easy to figure. They lay eggs in the leaves in the woods and build no nests. The two species are creatures of flight, and incapable of walking efficiently on weakly muscled legs. They eat nothing on the ground, just insects in the air, when in flight at dusk and dawn.  Because of that you cannot raise them in captivity… they cannot be fed in a confined environment.

       Both hogs and armadillos and all other ground rummaging furbearers, like raccoons, skunks, and possums find and eat the eggs and the young birds. So do crows, and blacksnakes are one of the most formidable of egg eaters.  All of these, every single species mentioned, is now at tremendously high populations everywhere these birds are found.  I know that the birds decline across the Midwest began with the infiltration of non-native armadillos, one of the most horrible creatures ever to move into our region.

       Whippoorwill eggs are too white, and often when you can walk past the bird and not see it because it blends so well into the forest floor, you can spot the eggs many yards away.
One protective gift they are given is the ability to move their eggs, and their fledglings both, by holding them between the their thighs and moving them to another safer place.  Trouble is, there is no safer place now.

     I might be able to blame the increasing loss of whippoorwills on wild hogs, but here on Lightnin’ Ridge where I live, there are no hogs. The armadillo is a scourge, and one I cannot see any hope of eliminating.

         The whippoorwill’s range covers a larger area than the chuck-wills-widow’s range, which makes the latter even more susceptible to this predation, of which feral hogs and armadillos are such a great part.  The larger chuck-wills-widow exists all across the south into eastern Oklahoma and Texas but not very far to the north, not found north of Missouri.         Whipporwills thrive into the southern part of Canada, but not in the Deep South or Texas, nor much farther to the west than eastern Kansas or eastern Oklahoma.

       Biologists in state wildlife departments are slow to recognize what is happening, but we are going to have to change some attitudes in a hurry if we are going to save the whippoorwill and other birds which nest on the ground.
       Modern day nature lovers, bird watchers and ornithologists need to get involved now, and we have to abandon the old idea that we should let nature take it’s course.  Nature has been badly overbalanced because of the over population of man. THERE NO LONGER IS A ‘NATURES COURSE’.

       We cannot eliminate or destroy the raccoon nor the possum or skunk no matter what we do.  When the price of furs was high in the 1920’s through the 1950’s we saw a tremendous pressure on those three species, and they were at low numbers for sure, for many years, but nowhere near extinction.  If those of us who live in the country begin to eliminate them as much as we can, we can make a significant impact on their numbers, and save many many nests.
       I have declared war on blacksnakes, feral cats and armadillos on my own land.  And I intend to reduce populations of raccoons and possums and skunks as well.  Control of these ever-increasing vermin is best effected by learning how to set small deadfalls.
       While deadfalls are against game and fish commission regulations, they are going to have to become a tool we use in protecting ground nesting birds like the whippoorwill, quail, woodcock and even wild turkey. There is some kind of game department regulation against almost anything you do now, killing a copperhead, cottonmouth or woodrat is illegal in Missouri.

       Right now there is a decline in eastern wild turkey populations in much of the Midwest, worse than I have seen since I was young. Again, they have never faced such a problem with the increasing number of egg eaters. I will address that in another column.
       I am urging everyone who spends time in the woods, who owns forested land or wants to see quail eggs and whippoorwill eggs survive, to declare war on these species I have mentioned.  I will eliminate all blacksnakes and armadillos on my place especially, and make it unattractive for crows and raccoons as well.  If you have noticed a decline in whippoorwill numbers in woodlands around you, I suggest you give thought to doing the same.

Outdoors note… A quail-hunting friend of mine says he finds several coveys, along a bottomland where a couple of farmer’s families trap fur each winter. He says it is easy to see why the quail do better there… trapping thins down the egg eaters.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Marauders With Fins

       If you know the lakes that harbor white bass and hybrids, I’ll share a secret with you.  But keep this under your hat.  In late September and most all of October, tributaries to those lakes, which are carrying some extra water from fall rains, are often carrying some extra fish… big hybrids.
       A hybrid is a fish which is created by hatchery manipulation, released into certain lakes as fingerlings or a little larger.  They are the result of a cross between female stripers and male white bass. They lack the ability to reproduce. In most waters where I fish for them, they average under ten pounds but not by much.  In most lower Midwestern waters where they are stocked they seem to get to twelve and fifteen pounds on occasion and though I never caught one larger, they can make it to 20 pounds.

       I think they are more aggressive and easier to catch than stripers are. Perhaps they get that from white bass genetics. Wherever it comes from, I like it. But last year up a river tributary I lost about forty dollars worth of lures because of it. As best as I can remember I motored up to a swiftly flowing shoal with a friend of mine and let my boat drift with it. I figured it was a good spot for a Kentucky bass or a white bass. I handed my partner one of my spinning outfits with a topwater lure on it and he hadn’t reeled it two feet before it was just sucked under, a broad white side flashing beneath it.

       It isn’t often that you hook a six- or seven-pound fish on your first cast. And it is hard to boat one that size when you have no dip-net, which is the only thing I had forgotten to put in the boat! But somehow my partner got him into the live-well, and about ten minutes later casting a buzz-bait with my casting reel, I hooked a similar hybrid.
       A fish that size in any kind of current is nothing but a rod-bending enjoyment that brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction, no matter what your troubles might be.  My troubles were just beginning.  The hefty hybrid got off right beside the boat.  But I caught another one right away and that one broke my line. I had lost the first lure. 

       My partner lost the next lure on a fish that was better than ten pounds or water ain’t wet, and he complained that the twelve-pound line I had was no match for what had engulfed that topwater redfin lure.

     It is usually the case that twelve-pound line will land about any hybrid, if you can just let him pull out line against the drag and pull your boat downstream, but where we were there were big rocks and a few logs in the current and you had to try to horse the fish out away from the obstacles.  It just doesn’t work with line that light in a current that strong.

       My fishing partner and I hooked better than twenty of those fish in a three-hour period.  I think we put only three more in the live-well.  Several just fought so hard we couldn’t keep hooks in ‘em, but I think five or six broke our line and took some good lures with them, red-fins, spooks and buzz-baits, maybe a total of 30 or 40 dollars worth of lures.  That was the first day of October as I recall, and those hybrids were up that river well into November. 

       But I fixed up a couple of reels with 20-pound line and never lost another lure.  But I guess I should confess that when I went after them again I fished three hours without getting a strike.  Water conditions weren’t right at that time, and though they were still there, they just weren’t hungry, or mad, or whatever it is that makes them attack like wolves. 

       But what you ought to hear about is that trip I will make in early October this year, when my stronger line and determination to get revenge is gonna be the demise of the ones who took my lures last fall!

       Outdoor note:  Anyone who hunts deer or elk or eats venison, needs to learn a great deal about the disease we call ‘chronic wasting disease’.  That term should be abandoned.   The disease is accurately called TSE, short for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy.
       Learn all you can about it. I suggest that you watch a film of an interview with one of a top biologist who has been studying the disease.  I watched it and what I learned really worries me.  It can be found on the computer at…https://youtu.be/E3s6p2UP57Q or  https://youtu.be/vHOUpczwcyA.  You need to see this folks!
       To contact me, write to Box 22 Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email… lightninridge47@gmail.com

The Birds of September

        Once years ago I was hunting with the publisher-owner of Gun Dog Magazine, who was from Iowa.  Back then there was no dove season in Iowa; we were  hunting a harvested grain field in Missouri and he had a friend along.  His friend sat at the edge of the field and killed five doves with his first five shots.  Then he commented, “I always heard doves were hard to hit, but heck, this is no challenge at all.”

         The fourth member of our group was a Corps of Engineer Ranger who had hunted doves since he was a boy. He could scarcely be heard from his hiding place a few yards away. But I smiled when I heard him mutter to himself… “He’ll regret saying that!”

         Sure enough, our newcomer from Iowa missed the next 7 shots. That’s a lot the way dove hunting is.  Sometimes they aren’t too hard to hit, and then you see a few winged acrobats and wish you’d have a bigger shot pattern.

         Many of the old timers I knew were river-men who hunted most everything… but not doves.  Some of that attitude came from believing that God had designated the dove as a bird of peace. When grizzled old veteran hunters and trappers felt that way it was usually because they had mothers and wives who recoiled against the idea of shooting a dove.  But usually they just didn’t have the guns to do it.
         In that time I remember many of them never bought a full box of shotgun shells. You might get 10 or 12 but never a full box.  It cost too much.  And there was common sense to it.  You didn’t go out there with a Winchester model-97 long-barreled pump shotgun with a full choke in it and shoot at doves.  There was no good reason to spend 2 or 3 shells on a bird that only provide one man about 1/5th of a meal, even if he had poke salad and beans and cornbread to go with it.  Dove hunters sort of sprang from quail hunting… men who used open-choked short-barreled shotguns and a little bit of money to buy shells with.  They could afford game vests and supporting a good setter or pointer, which required more food and upkeep than a beagle or a coonhound.

         But personally I am losing interest in dove hunting because on September 1 every year is hot and muggy and my hunting partner, Bolt the Labrador, don’t like getting out there in the weeds if there is no water close.  Now, hunting over water-holes in the evening is another story.  We don’t mind that so much, and we might do that a couple of weeks after everyone else has quit hunting them. 

         But I have seen a few dove fledglings in nests in early September.  If I were setting dove seasons in the southern reaches of the Midwest I would set the dove season’s opening date back to September 21.  It makes sense, fewer nestlings wasted, a cooler time when more doves are migrating down from the north.  If that makes sense to you, you might see when the season on doves ends and make a late season trip to a grain field or water hole.

         Before I go I just have to pass on a conversation I had with a lady who wasn’t all that fond of hunters.  She said that I ought to be ashamed of myself for hunting God’s bird of peace, the dove. I told her that I was indeed a little ashamed of that, but she had morning doves confused with the birds of peace discussed in the Bible.  They were different birds, I assured her, but not a lot different than the quail God provided for the Israeli’s in the desert. Those birds of peace were white and they didn’t get trichomoniasis.  She looked at me for a minute and then wanted to know what that big word meant. I told her about that, an awful mass which grows inside the throat of mourning doves and their fledglings, which cause them to die a slow death because they can’t swallow food.  She looked skeptical, so I told her about how some northern doves actually do not migrate and many freeze to death or have toes frozen off.
         I told her how our Great Creator allows doves to be caught and eaten by hawks and cats while they were still alive.   “You don’t have any cats do you?” I asked.  She didn’t answer.  Then I said, “You know ma’m, doves can’t feed on standing grain, they have to have grain on the ground to walk around and feed that way.  So I am going to buy a bunch of wheat and sunflower seed to feed them through the awful cold months of the winter, and if you would like to help them just give me a twenty dollar bill and I’ll use it for more seed.”  She looked at me and smiled a little and said, “You are a bit of a shyster aren’t you?”

         I told her that indeed I was, and she told me she was going to get on the computer and find out if all that stuff I said was the truth.  But when I asked if she’d like to try some baked doves with gravy, she kindly declined…. and frowned a bit at the thought of it.

OUTDOOR NOTES… Cool weather will send the blue-winged teal into the lower Midwest.  There is a special hunting season for them in September.  They are the earliest migrators of the waterfowl species, a harbinger of the true fall season.