A Must Own…

2016-08-22_12h19_20In just the past few decades, South Carolina has emerged as one of the most exciting archaeological research sites on the continent. Literally.

ARCHAEOLOGY IN SOUTH CAROLINA: Exploring the Hidden Heritage of the Palmetto State, edited by Adam King, contains an overview of the fascinating archaeological research currently ongoing in the Palmetto State and features essays by twenty scholars studying South Carolina’s past through archaeological research. The scholarly contributions are enhanced by more than one hundred black-and-white and thirty-eight color images of some of the most important and interesting sites and artifacts found in the state.

South Carolina has an extraordinarily rich history encompassing some of the first human habitations of North America as well as the lives of people at the dawn of the modern era. King begins the anthology with the basic hows and whys of archaeology and introduces readers to the current issues influencing the field of research. The contributors are all recognized experts from universities, state agencies, and private consulting firms, reflecting the diversity of people and institutions that engage in archaeology.

The volume begins with investigations of some of the earliest Paleo-Indian and Native American cultures that thrived in South Carolina, including work at the Topper Site along the Savannah River. Other essays explore the creation of early communities at the Stallings Island site, the emergence of large and complex Native American polities before the coming of Europeans, the impact of the coming of European settlers on Native American groups along the Savannah River, and the archaeology of the Yamasee, a people whose history is tightly bound to the emerging European society.

The focus then shifts to Euro-Americans with an examination of a long-term project seeking to understand George Galphin’s trading post established on the Savannah River in the eighteenth century.

The volume concludes with the recollections of a life spent in the field by South Carolina’s preeminent historical archaeologist Stanley South, now retired from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. March 2015, 304 pages, 38 color and 103 b&w illustrations

Aldo Leopold

AldoLeopoldHome
Aldo Leopold: the father of wildlife management.

The progress of conservation in the US is paved by sportsmen, naturalists, philosophers, scientists, authors, activists and more. Despite their various, and sometimes clashing philosophies, their efforts added up to acre upon acre of preserved wilderness, and an ever growing awareness of our dependence on ecological integrity.

Even with so many players, it is doubtful that any single name is as revered among conservationists from all walks of life as the name Aldo Leopold.

Leopold began his career as a forester with the US Forest Service. By the end of his career, would produce hundreds of publications, launch conservation organizations, found the field (indeed, even the notion) of wildlife management , and hold the first such professorship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

However, Aldo Leopold’s most influential contribution would emerge from the pages of an unassuming book of essays publishedASCA posthumously. Through A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold would would awaken the minds and touch the hearts of readers for generations, and leave us with a work that would be deemed the cornerstone of the North American environmental movement.

Leopold was just the person to author such a book. He was the erudite professor lecturing with the brilliant prose of a poet. In ASCA, Leopold teaches us how to read and understand the land, and we learn that even the subtlest natural event may offer intuitive deduction and intriguing questions as we learn to see and wonder. To Leopold, “Every farm woodlot is a textbook on animal ecology; woodsmanship is the translation of the book.”

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Leopold inspects one of his white pines.

Part I of ASCA is  a charming and thought-provoking trek through fields and forests, with Aldo as our guide. In January, we follow skunk tracks in the thawing snow, see what saplings the rabbits have girdled and draw  thought-provoking deductions from hawks and meadow mice.  In April, we watch the mating ritual of the woodcock’s Sky Dance. In June, we follow Leopold on a fishing trip on The Alder Fork, and sense that the value of the experience is in the pursuit. In October, we follow along with Aldo and his dog Gus through the Smokey Gold tamaracks of Adams County in pursuit of ruffed grouse. In November we take to the woods with Axe in Hand where we really begin to understand how the mind of a conservationist works. In December, we smile at Leopold’s enthusiasm for tracking chickadees.

In the sections following the Almanac , Leopold’s prose becomes slightly more poignant as he wrestles head-on with some heavier issues such as predator control, the cultural value of wilderness, the role of science in conservation, and more.

Finally, in what is likely his most famous work, Leopold pulls it all together in brilliant fashion with the book’s capstone essay called The Land Ethic – a beautifully written exposition on the relationship between land and people.

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With his longbow in hand, Aldo Leopold scans for deer from a high bluff in northern New Mexico.

That land is a community”, Leopold explains in the Forward to ASCA, “is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.” It is those three concepts that Leopold so eloquently weaves together throughout his monumental book.

In the end, we have an inspiring glimpse into the mind of one of history’s greatest conservationists. Most of all, however, Aldo Leopold left us with a piece of work that lays out the value of nature and a resounding call to preserve it, both for its own sake, and for ours.

For more on Aldo Leopold and his conservation legacy, or to purchase a copy of A Sand County Almanac, visit aldoleopold.org

Hunter S. Bridges

 

Landscaping for Wildlife

Swallowtail on Milkweed X

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”  Aldo Leopold

No doubt, by creating a landscape that offers the same utility to wildlife as natural habitat, you will enjoy a greater diversity of wildlife species year around. But the real satisfaction is coming to understand the components of wildlife habitat and how wildlife depend those components. By coming to understand wildlife habitat, you will learn firsthand, and hands on, how to comprehend land from wildlife’s perspective. You will become an ecologist in every sense of the word.

An urban wildlife habitat should accomplish two things. It should meet your needs, such as aesthetics, maintenance and cost, as well as meet the needs of wildlife: cover, food, water and space.

Understanding Cover for Wildlife

The importance of cover to wildlife is often overlooked but cannot be understated. Sufficient cover allows animals to avoid predators and offers safe places for nesting, brooding or avoiding inclement weather. Escape cover for birds, for instance, should be dense and close to where they access food or water. Nesting cover varies. It might dense vegetation for ground-nesting species like Canada geese or killdeer. For cavity nesters like wrens, bluebirds or wood ducks, standing dead trees or artificial nesting boxes can offer nesting cover. Brooding cover is critical for species like bobwhite quail, ruffed grouse and wild turkey, whose young are mobile and must forage for insects as soon as they hatch. In essence, cover types are structurally different and wildlife use them in different ways. In most urban cases escape cover should be the focus: consider a food source like a single bird feeder; that feeder will concentrate birds, and predators will quickly learn to focus on that location. If the feeder is close to adequate escape cover, it will be more heavily used by birds, since they can quickly dive into the safety of brush before a predator can close the deal.

The arrangement of cover also matters. Cover should be multi-dimensional; that is, diverse horizontally across your landscape and diverse vertically from understory to mid-story to tree canopy.

An example of very poor vertical diversity. There is no mid-story and very little, if any, usable understory.

Different species of wildlife, birds in particular, will utilize different vertical levels of vegetation. Species such as sparrows and wrens spend most of their time within ten or fifteen feet of the ground, whereas some species, like the threatened cerulean warbler, generally stay high in the canopy. Providing different levels of vertical vegetation – vertical diversity –  will make your habitat desirable to more species.

Forest openings create horizontal diversity by breaking up mature forests, creating diversity across the landscape. Forest openings like fields and meadows are areas where the most sunlight reaches the ground and allows

Forest openings offer horizontal diversity. They also offer great cover and food for wildlife.
Forest openings offer horizontal diversity. They also offer great cover and food for wildlife.

grasses and broad-leafed forbs to flourish, offering excellent cover and a storehouse of seeds and protein-rich insects. Species like the eastern meadowlark, purple martins, swallows and flycatchers depend on these areas. Openings also create valuable edge habitat. You’ll notice also that unmanicured forest openings, like fallow fields or powerlines, do not have a crisp transition from grass to forest. Instead the vegetation is very dense along the edge. The transition from knee-high grass and weeds, to thick saplings and vines, to mature forest, is gradual. That gradual, layered transition from one habitat type to another is called an ecotone and is heavily favored by wildlife.

 

Cover for Wildlife in your Landscape

In your lawn, hedge rows and beds of dense vegetation can offer ideal escape cover for wildlife and be an appealing profile to you landscape design. Vegetated fence rows are another opportunity to incorporate cover for wildlife.

When deciding on what to plant as a hedge row, consider whether or not the plants will offer sufficient cover year around. For instance, hydrangeas and some Virburnum species, which are common deciduous ornamentals, offer great cover during the summer but poor cover during the winter (though, that’s not to say they should never be planted). American hollies are native evergreens, regularly used as ornamental hedges, and offer excellent cover year-around.  Other ideal hedge plants include Eastern red cedar, Japanese honeysuckle and wax myrtle, all of which offer a food source as well.

Keeping “soft edges” on hedge rows enhances the hedge’s utility as escape cover, while tightly trimmed hedge rows are slightly more difficult for birds to penetrate quickly into the safety of the branches. In addition, thorny plants such as blackberry present even more of an impediment to would-be predators.

The "tight" pruning on these hedges makes them difficult for many wildlife species to enter.
The “tight” pruning on these hedges makes them difficult for many wildlife species to enter. This compromises the hedges’ utility as escape cover.

There are numerous native plant species that are attractive landscaping specimens and valuable to wildlife. Using native plant species has several benefits. Native species, being already adapted to your region’s climate will require little or no watering, fertilizer or other special care. In addition, native wildlife is generally adapted to seeking out native food items. Referring to the resources at the end of this article, as well as consulting a local plant nursery, preferably one that offers native plant species, will give you a lot of options and allow you to use your own creativity.

Many species depend on dead, standing trees for food and as nesting cover. Photo Credit: illinois.edu

Many wildlife species depend on standing dead trees for both food and cover. However in urban settings, dead trees are most often removed to reduce liability and enhance aesthetics; if you can leave a few, do so. If not, offering nesting boxes for cavity nesters can help offset the deficit of natural cavities. Nesting boxes should face away from each other to

Photo Credit: www.mowersource.com
Photo Credit:
www.mowersource.com

avoid competition (female blue birds for instance can be wildly aggressive if the openings face each other). Many commercial bird houses are available, but metal or plastic bird houses should be avoided, as they tend to retain heat more than wooden boxes which can lead to “cooked nests”.

If possible, a portion of your landscape should be converted to a tall, grassy,meadow-type habitat. The grass should be mowed or weedeated downtwice a year, once in early summer and again in late summer,  to reset natural succession and discourage woody plant vegetation. One drawback in many urban settings is that unmowed grass suggests a neglected lawn. However, by thoughtfully orienting and mantaining your meadow habitat you can create an aesthetically pleasing layer to your landscape’s arrangement. Dispersing native wildflowers among the grass

Adding wildflowers to your tall grasses can add color to your landscape and benefit wildlife. Photo Credit: www.americanmeadows.com
Adding wildflowers to your tall grasses can add color to your landscape and benefit wildlife.
Photo Credit: www.americanmeadows.com

will add a splash of color to your landscape as well as attract butterflies and hummingbirds. A few native, low maintenance wildflower species to consider include:

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Purple coneflower
  • Butterfly weed
  • Standing cypress
  • Sage (Salvia coccinea)
  • Cardinal flower
  • Sweet goldenrod

Food for Wildlife

Offering plants that produce fruit well into winter, such as American holly or Eastern red cedar, will ensure that wildlife can find adequate nutrition even during stress periods. Photo Credit: fineartamerica.com
Offering plants that produce fruit well into winter, such as American holly or Eastern red cedar, will ensure that wildlife can find adequate nutrition even during stress periods.
Photo Credit: fineartamerica.com

Food items should be diverse and available year around. Incorporating plants that produce fruit at different times of the year will ensure that wildlife are able to meet nutritional demands even during stress periods such as late winter. It is convenient that many plant species that offer great cover for wildlife also offer excellent food sources. This can save space in your yard and keep food and cover close together. Native plant species should be the first resort. A few attractive, native (to the southeast) species of fruiting trees and shrubs that will provide food from mid-summer will into fall include American Beautyberry, Hearts-A-Busting, Dogwood, Black Cherry and Sugar Berry. As a winter food source, consider American Holly and Eastern Red Cedar. Again, there are a lot of options depending on your region and soil conditions so researching and consulting plant nursery will allow you to determine which plant species are best for your landscape.

Insects are equally important food items. This is where your meadow type

Many species depend exclusively on insects, like this purple martin. Photo Credit: www.wildlifeextra.com
Many species depend exclusively on insects, like this purple martin.
Photo Credit: www.wildlifeextra.com

habitat can play a crucial role since the tall grass holds more insects than short mow. Amply higher in protein than fruits, insects are a critical part of birds’ diet, especially during the spring when females rely on insects to feed their rapidly growing young who require a protein-rich diet. Some species, such as wrens, most warblers, phoebes, great-crested and blue-gray flycatchers prefer insects year-around. During the summer months you will likely notice bats feed just above these areas to glean small insects that spend the hottest

Hatchlings depend on insects for protein. Photo Credit: digitalphotoacademy.com
Hatchlings depend on insects for protein.
Photo Credit: digitalphotoacademy.com

hours of the day among the cover of tall grasses. Tall grasses largely benefit insects in the order Orthoptera, which includes crickets, grasshoppers, katydids and more. Insect pests such as mosquitoes, roaches and termites will not be similarly encouraged by tall grass.

Warblers are brilliantly colored species that migrate back and forth over the southeast from their wintering grounds in the neo-tropics to their breeding grounds in the northeastern US and Canada. They are also habitat specialists, meaning that they prefer specific habitat types, especially specific food items, as opposed to most resident backyard bird species who are habitat generalists. Warblers are almost exclusively insectivorous and especially benefit from vertical diversity. Tree species such as oak and beech generally offer more caterpillars than other tree species and will be more attractive to warblers than a bird feeder. Warbler sightings can be an indicator of how successful your backyard habitat is, but not always.

Feeders can be an excellent supplementary food source, especially during winter when both vegetable and animal food items are hard to come by. But

This bird feeder is not close to escape cover. A bird visiting this feeder is taking a risk. Photo Credit: www.shrubcoat.com
This bird feeder is not close to escape cover. A bird visiting this feeder is taking a risk.
Photo Credit:
www.shrubcoat.com

feeders have their drawbacks and should be a supplement to, not a substitute for, wild food items. Feeders concentrate birds, provoking aggression within and among species as well as making them more vulnerable to predators. Using several feeders, placed at different heights and in different parts of your landscape can decrease competition and, of course, placing them close to escape cover can decrease predation. The most common types of seed available are millet, black oil sunflower and thistle seed. Blends, usually containing peanuts, black oil sunflowers and millet, are not bad but offering those seeds separately in different feeders can help to curtail competition since different species often prefer different types of seed. For finches, Niger or thistle seed is preferred to all other seeds. Suet, a mix of fat, seeds and nuts can be an excellent supplement. Suet is high in protein and energy and will often attract birds that are typically insectivorous, especially during winter when insects are not as abundant. Move your feeders every few weeks to avoid a build-up of droppings beneath the feeder which can represent a health hazard.

Be judicious with pesticides. While mosquito and fire ant control can be a reasonable objective, consider that if an insecticide kills mosquitoes or fire ants it is likely just as toxic to other insects. Bifenthrin is a very effective insecticide and one of the most common active ingredients in over-the-counter insecticides. Bifenthrin is not a selective insecticide and if it is applied indiscriminately all non-target insect species are effected. Bifenthrin’s impact on the declining honeybee population is of considerable concern. To control fire ants, consider applying the insecticide directly to nests (in accordance with application directions), as opposed to broadcasting evenly over the lawn.

Water

Water should always be nearby. A natural water source like a creek or pond is a-bird_bath_fun-1517257ideal because they require little or no maintenance and will always provide fresh water. Artificial water features are great as well, though they’re often expensive to install. Bird baths work perfectly well as long as the water is changed every few days. If you have the space, offering two or three bird baths can decrease competition by providing more of the resource. Again, keep the baths close to escape cover.

If you are lucky enough to have a natural water source connected to your landscape you may have additional wildlife viewing opportunities, as some species like belted kingfishers, hooded warblers, prothonotary warblers, great blue herons, etc. require natural water sources. Preserving dense vegetation along the bank will encourage wildlife to visit, reduce erosion, and preserve water quality by naturally filtering runoff.

Space

Space is another important wildlife habitat component. The amount of space an animal needs depends largely on how far it has to travel to meet its daily nutritional requirements. The area an animal travels on a daily basis to meet those demands is called its home range. For migratory species, home range can include tens of thousands of miles; for a whitetail deer a few hundred acres can be sufficient; for a robin or sparrow, just a few acres might do. When food, water and cover are close by, wildlife needn’t travel as far to meet their nutritional demands. Most urban landscape initiatives are restricted to relatively small property boundaries, so getting neighbors involved in wildlife friendly landscaping might increase desirable habitat size from a few small disconnected properties to a large, subdivision-wide wildlife initiative.

Fertilizers

Fertilizers, while frowned upon by some “experts”, can be an asset. Applied properly, fertilizer has been shown to increase the nutritional quality, abundance of vegetation and fruit production, palatability, and digestibility of many plant species. However, applied improperly, fertilizer can lead to compromised water quality and other environmental concerns, not to mention the cost. Fertilizer should only be applied in accordance with the results of a soil test. There are numerous facilities that offer soil analysis at a negligible cost, as well as easy-to-follow online resources for interpreting the results from your soil test.

Urban Wildlife and Predation

Pets are often the most significant predators to urban wildlife.
Pets are often the most significant predators to urban wildlife.

When you have created your wildlife habitat, you will have created a place where wildlife is likely to congregate, and as prey congregates, so do predators. Some predation is inevitable, however offering sufficient cover will keep the playing field level between predator and prey. In many cases, pets are the main predators of urban wildlife.

Finally, enjoy getting dirt under your fingernails and working with the landscape, not against it. Remember that in the end, your initiatives are well conceived and will likely add up to more than just good intentions.

Hunter S. Bridges

Wild Carolina Celebrates NWTF

Scanned by: Retouched by: DT-VGQC'd by: DT-SSLegend has it that it all started on a cold dawn in 1971 when Tom Rodgers, then manager of an insurance company and writer for a syndicated outdoor column, headed toward a favorite turkey hunting spot in northern Virginia. Moving swiftly over the dim landscape, Tom’s heart was full of adventure as he envisioned an old longbeard perched on his roost. However, his heart sank when he topped out on the ridge. Rodgers would later describe what he saw as “a desolate field, filled only with decaying tree stumps and no wild turkeys in sight.”

On that cold morning, Rodgers, immensely disappointed, began to envision a way to improve the outlook for wild turkeys and their habitat; as a hunter, he realized that he had a responsibility to preserve land and wildlife, both for its own sake and for ours. On March 28, 1973, Rodgers put down his own $440.00 to launch the National Wild Turkey Federation, along with its flagship publication Turkey Call Magazine, in Fredericksburg, VA. Drawing on the connections he had made as an outdoor columnist, Rodgers recruited the help of wildlife biologists, outdoor writers and public relations specialists to launch a public relations campaign. It was not long before his old cigar box was way too small to hold the flurry of membership applications. In June of 1973, Rodgers moved to Edgefield, SC and with his friend and new business partner, Sam Crouch, established the national headquarters for the NWTF, where it remains today.

When Rodgers launched the NWTF there were only 1.7 million wild turkeys roaming the fields and forests of North America, and habturkeyrelease1itat management alone would not be enough to revitalize the population. It was Rodgers’ idea to trap birds from areas with healthy turkey populations and release them on suitable habitat where the birds were scarce. The NWTF also assisted with the trapping and relocation efforts by providing funding, equipment and staff to both state and provincial wildlife agencies. It worked. In fact, trapping and relocation made the revitalization of the wild turkey population one of history’s greatest conservation success stories.  As of today, there are more than 7 million wild turkeys in the United States. As for the NWTF, they are currently a vibrant, multinational federation built on state and local chapters all dedicated to conserving the wild turkey and together they have spent $412 million dollars on conservation and have preserved nearly 17.25 million acres of excellent habitat. Also, by preserving wild turkey habitat, which by definition is spacious and biologically diverse, the NWTF has preserved ideal habitat for countless other game and non-game species, including a number of threatened and endangered species.

In addition to conservation, the NWTF is dedicated to fostering our cherished hunting tradition. Through initiatives such as Wheelin’ Sportsmen, Women in the Outdoors, Families Afield, and JAKES, the NWTF brings the outdoors and the hunting tradition to women, children, the disabled, and so many others who might otherwise miss out on the outdoor experience. No other conservation organization has had such a positive impact on both land and people.

It all started in the heart of a citizen-conservationist who sat on a stump in a ruined habitat and wondered what he could do to ensure a bright future for the game, the land and the sport he loved so much. As fate would have it, a disappointing turkey hunt would inspire one of the most successful conservation stories in history. But most of all, those of us who are deeply stirred by the sight of a stately tom or the echo of his daybreak gobble, owe so much to Rodgers’ vision, and to the hard work and determination of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

To learn more about the National Wild Turkey Federation or to get involved, visit www.nwtf.org.

Hunter S. Bridges

 

 

Lake Conestee Nature Park

The tri-syllabic call of a baGreat Blue Herron on Nest at Lake Conestee Nature Parkrred owl rolls across the dimly lit forest as squealing wood ducks, silhouetted against a glowing horizon, split the firmament on whistling wings. A beaver, finishing up a hard night’s work of building wetlands, cuts the surface of the mirror-still water as he heads for his lodge.

LCNP is surely a gem for birdwatchers, hikers, botany enthusiasts, or anyone else who enjoys nature. However, it has not always been that way.  Lake Conestee was created in the eA Walk Through the Wetlands at Lake Conestee Nature Parkarly 1800s in order to power a mill village and was originally a 140-acre lake. Since then, the natural process of sedimentation has filled in approximately 90-percent of the lake. However, the sediments that were deposited into the lake contain industrial pollutants. But in 2000, the Conestee Foundation endeavored to return Conestee lake and its surrounding landscapes back  to wildness. At almost 400-acres and growing, LCNP represents a significant and ongoing success in land rejuvenation. Currently, the park boasts 2 miles of paved trails, 3 miles of natural trails and 1850 feet of boardwalks coursing visitors through a beautiful landscape. In addition, Lake Conestee Nature Park is  recognized by Audubon South Carolina and Bird Life International as part of a global network of important bird areas (IBA).

Lake Conestee Nature Park consists of a menagerie of habitat types – extensive wetlands, mixed-deciduous forests, meadows and more.  As you walk the trails you will notice aCanada Geese on the Reedy River lot of beaver sign: gnawed trees, dams, lodges, etc; though the best times to catch a glimpse of one is early in the morning and late in the evening especially during the cooler months of the year. During the fall and winter you can expect to see a number of waterfowl species – wood ducks, mallards, mottled ducks, teal, hooded mergansers, Canada geese and more. There are two well-constructed and spacious observation decks offering visitors incredible views of open water and marshy wetlands. The trails and boardwalks take you through wooded wetlands and alongside creeks where you may encounter a wide variety of other birds and wildlife throughout the year.

Please visit www.conesteepark.com for more information, including trail maps, bird lists, sponsored activities, rules, and more.

Hunter S. Bridges

 

Spring Peepers

Late winter passes at a snail’sspring peeper 5 pace for many. With the cold February wind rattling bare canopies, the vitality of nature seems to have left with the geese back in November. But to those of us who know what to look for, and listen for, spring suggests itself long before April’s dogwood blooms.

The first warm rains of late winter summon a chorus of “ringing bells” – the chorus of spring peepers.

Spring peepers usually begin their vernal serenade in late February and they may be the earliest sign of winter’s conclusion. Like many other amphibians, spring peepers breed when it is still too cold for most predators.  That means peepers must be able to cope with occasional sub-freezing temperatures, especially in the northernmost reaches of their range. They cope by being able to allow their body fluids freeze,  withstanding temperatures as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hardly more than one inch long, peepers’ coloration can be orange, brown or tan, but the best way to identify them is by the dark “X” on their back (see photo top left of this article), which is the origin of the specific epithet in their scientific name “crucifer”, referring to the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. They do have toe pads for climbing although they spend most of their lives near the forest floor. During dormancy, spring peepers spend their time nestled in rotting logs.

Listen for spring peepers in late February evenings. If you’ll listen, spring peepers assure us that spring is on the move, even when frosty mornings suggest otherwise.

Hunter S. Bridges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ou can look for them calling just above shallow pools. They will surly stop calling as you approach so you will need a keen eye to spot one. If you get close, sit still for a few minutes and the peepers will resume their song, and when they do, sneak a little closer. Repeat the process until you finally spot one!

 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

My breath hung in whiteRCK3 plumes as I stood watching the sun slip over the eastern horizon. The bitter cold kept the morning songbirds at bay for the most part. However, between the cold air, silence, and steaming coffee, the exuberant call of one familiar winter resident caught my attention. He danced weightlessly from the tip of one twig to the tip of another while singing to the frosty morning with the confidence of a spring blue bird. A ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), one of the few warblers that over-winters here in the southeast, was one of the first birds to greet the day. Their call is unmistakably loud and musical, especially from a bird no larger than one’s thumb. Enthusiasm of that magnitude is difficult to ignore, especially from such a small package.

Like most species of warbler, the ruby-crowned kinglet is often shy of urban areas. It is best to look for them in deciduous or mixed forests from mid-November through March. The male is a handsome fellow: a light olive green, with yellow highlights on his primary wing RCK 1feathers, a light-yellow throat, two white wing bars and, you guessed it, a ruby crown, which is often tough to distinguish unless the bird is excited. Another diagnostic feature of the ruby-crowned is that they have a curious habit of nervously flicking their wings. They often feed with chickadees and titmice around six feet off the ground, gleaning insects from the tips of branches. Being so small, they have found their ecological niche in picking food from branches and leaves that are too small for other birds to land on. Why compete for food when you can under-weigh the competition? Also, because of their insectivorous feeding habit, they are not likely to visit your bird feeder, which does seem to add something to their allure.

Ruby-crowned kinglets are one of those unassuming little critters that adds cheer to the austerity of winter woods. So next time you think of a frosty morning as dreary, stop and take a look around, and if you’re lucky, a ruby-crowned may just remind you that frost is no match for enthusiasm!

Hunter S. Bridges

 

 

 

Chattooga Solitude

054Cold as gun steel, the crystal water of the Chattooga River’s East Fork tumbles over moss-covered stones and carves its way through the loamy ridges of the northwestern-most corner of South Carolina. The sheer banks, rising hundreds of feet above the swirling eddies, are covered with impenetrable ranks of mountain laurel and dense thickets of doghobble. But such a landscape is a cordial invitation to a hard-bitten fly fisherman and his limber rod.

With a box full of carefully tied trout flies and a heart full of high-country adventure, I drove upward along Highway 107 with trout heavy on my mind. However, despite my illusions of angling grandeur, the river had another thing in mind. The water thermometer read 39 degrees, and trout generally shut down when the water  dips below 42 degrees, so I knew the trout would not be rising to sip any high-floating dry flies on that day. Fishing water that cold takes an enormous amount of patience, skill, and luck (I lack all three). Late winter trout are lethargic; only a mouthful drifting mighty close might entice a strike. The trout rest on the edge of slack, swirling pools behind granite boulders, their nose near the rushing water, waiting for spring or an easy meal. From my selection of elegant trout flies I chose a large, gaudy wooly bugger, hoping that it would sink fast before the current swept it past the strike zone. My casts were sloppy and my hefty fly whipped between flanking laurel thickets before landing just upstream from a trouty-looking pool.

One can cast a fly rod in many places throughout the Carolinas. What makes the Chattooga and many of its tributaries special is that they are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1964. This act ensures that some watersheds remain wild, that is, no roads, few trails, no designated campgrounds. Solitude. Only one-quarter of one-percent of rivers in the US are designated under the Wild and Scenic Rivers System but the Carolinas are blessed with 14 WSR watersheds! That means there are so many opportunities to experience our landscape, and to see wild Carolina the way the first explorers and settlers saw it – wild! There are no caution signs to warn you of a misstep, no meteorologist to warn you of a change in the weather, no guide to show you the best place to pitch a tent. Nothing could be better than to experience untamed wildness, and to be enlivened and inspired by its inherent unpredictability.

I fished pool after pool that day and the heavy fly patterns did not make my casts look very graceful. But with each cast, as the fly was sucked into the icy current, I was sucked further and further into the raw Appalachian landscape – cold, substantial, timeless. I must confess that I did not land any trout on that late January day, but I hiked out of the steep slopes with a creel full of solitude and wild beauty.

Hunter S. Bridges

Searching for Sheds

IMG_4646January through February is a time for enjoying the subtlest natural pleasures. Late winter lacks the decoration of spring’s wild flowers and bird calls, summer’s cicadas and fire flies, and autumn’s opulence and color. It is a time to tie trout flies from the feathers of April turkey and October grouse, to enjoy hot fires and apple cider (perhaps with a jigger’s worth of spiced rum). Late winter is the best time for the outdoorsman to consider the way of things with little wild distraction. But with wild things there is always some sort of distraction.

Searching for shed deer antlers along the fields and forests of wild Carolina is as great a distraction as there is. To find one of those calcium-rich casts rivals even the enthusiasm of finding a thoughtfully placed Easter egg as a child. But instead of wondering what is within a plastic shell, your imagination is stirred more deeply as you hold in your hand a tangible piece of wildness. Where is he now? And even more compelling, where was he when you were waiting for him with frozen toes from October through December? In short, that shed deer antler leads to some compelling questions, especially to those of us who are infected with buck fever as soon as the sourwoods turn red in early September.

A buck sheds his antlers each year in late January to mid February and a new set begins to grow immediately. As the antlers grow throughout the summer they are coIMG_4654vered with short hairs , appropriately called velvet. During the summer growth, the antlers have the consistency of a carrot, fully innervated, with blood flow, nerve endings and all. Changes in the amount of sunlight, or photoperiod, govern the bucks’ testosterone levels, which in turn govern the antler cycle. Actively growing deer antlers are the only regenerative tissue known to generate hair follicles and researchers are presently untangling that peculiar biological secret, which is welcome news to many men and women frustrated over hair loss.

The antler casts areIMG_4647 full of protein and calcium phosphate and are thus relished by squirrels and other rodents, so don’t wait too long to go looking for them! A buck may drop his antlers at any place, but your best chance of actually finding an antler shed are in fields, power lines or other open areas since sheds are more difficult to see among the branches and leaves that litter the forest floor. Good luck!

Hunter S. Bridges