June Photography
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We spent a week at the beach earlier this month and had a chance to explore the Nags Head Ecological Preserve which is protected by the Nature Conservancy. Along on the trip, we had a giant leopard moth cocoon that we were waiting on to emerge – it did, with us watching, and it was amazing! A week or 10 days afterwards, I spent a couple days in the field working on the rights-of-way research project and took some more photos.











Ohio State Maymester Course 2017
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Last year, I taught one of the Environment and Natural Resources senior capstone courses for the first time, and this year, I retained that responsibility for Round 2.

It’s a semi-immersive experience for the students with lots of field work and a great deal of independent thinking on their part. We (I taught with the same 2 instructors again) provided running boards to keep each group’s research project tracking but gave them plenty of freedom to make mistakes and learn valuable lessons from the school of lumps and bruises. Student projects included creating a “sugar bush” for maple syrup production styled after community-supported agriculture, marking permanent sampling plots and establishing baseline data for a variety of ecological parameters, and comparing campus mitigated wetlands to natural vernal pools present on the property. Each group was responsible for presenting their results to a panel of university/public stakeholders as well as producing a final technical report that builds into a management plan for the campus property. All in all, they did a phenomenal job.

Professor Yaussy spelling out why older age class pine stands need managed!

Soil probe to determine moisture and pH in the “sugar bush”

Tree fall gap dynamics at its finest

Macro-invertebrate sampling in one of the mitigated wetlands

Muskrat

Female red-winged blackbird perched on a muskrat mound

Red fox

Kodiak Island Hunting Trip – Commercial Flight Logistics
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Hotlinked is a post from March where I outlined some of the bush flight considerations we worked through to find a transporter once we are on Kodiak Island…still gotta get there though.

Enter, Alaskan Air (earlier post I did regarding Alaska Airlines). Had I known a few key facts beforehand, the deals I’m about to tell you about could have been even better! But I’m not complaining.

I have some hard numbers to report on savings. I booked one-way tickets for dad and I out of Raleigh-Durham clear through to Kodiak Airport using miles. I got my credit card back in February, paid off a balance through June (4 months worth) and cashed out all my miles (38,000 and change) + purchased an additional 2K miles to cover the difference. 2 one-way tickets with additional trip protection added on cost me a total of $102.33. Best price I could find without using any benefits or discounts was $959.60.

Returning from Kodiak to Raleigh-Durham, I burned my companion fare which meant after purchasing a full rate fare, I was able to purchase the second ticket for $99 + fees/taxes. Adding on trip protection again (not something I normally do, but decided it would be wise considering the unpredictable nature of Alaska’s elements), the return leg of the trip cost $660.48, down from the full retail price of $994.94.

For tickets bought under an Alaskan Air account, they tack on a free 1st bag/passenger for each one-way leg ($25/bag normally), so there’s an additional $100 in savings.

So, all told, we each saved $428.64/departing flight + $167.23/return flight + $50/baggage fees for a Hamilton-short of grand total $1,300 savings. Basically unbelievable.

Things I wish I knew beforehand (because believe it or not, I did not manage to wring every last drop of savings out of the amazing Alaskan Air program)

1) There are a fixed number of “miles” seats on any given flight and when they are gone they are gone. As flights zero out their “miles” seats allotment, it becomes tougher and tougher to pin down your optimal itinerary if you are determined to use your card benefits.

2) If a flight has 10 “miles” seats, they start cheap (for instance, one-way trip from Raleigh-Durham started at 12,500 miles when they were first posted) and escalate in cost as supply is reduced (they were 20,000 miles/one-way ticket when I secured them). Classic economics, could have saved me 15,000 miles overall if I’d have jumped at them when I first started researching.

Alaskan Air, I rest my case.

Garden Update, Wild Edibles & Local Grant Opportunity
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I’ve been pleased with my garden’s growth since planting two and a half weeks ago. The plants that I grew in the basement are really taking and I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to straw in between the rows.

Had a chance to grab a couple small bags of ramps last several weeks and enjoyed mixing them into stir fry recipes and sauteed by themselves.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been working hard in the yard – front and back – to get more light on to the lawn and renovate some of the dilapidated shrubbery. If you’re local to Columbus, OH, and have an address that qualifies, this small grant program for private landowners chips in $50 or $100 towards eco-friendly landscaping. No strings attached, check it out at the Community Rebates Backyard Program.

“Budget” Long-Range Optics for my New 6.5 CM
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You’ve seen the general philosophy expressed many times if you’re a long time Smorgasbord reader. Synthetic golf pants in lieu of Kuiu or Sitka “mountain gear”, Salomon boots instead of Crispis or Lowa boots, discount backpacker’s puffy instead of a high dollar option, solid color earth tones instead of the up-charged marketplace camouflage patterns, the list goes on.

SWFA (SouthWestern Firearms, Inc.) provides an economical route to equipping your rifle with a quality set of optics with a full range of features. I settled on the 3-15×42 model that runs in the mid $600s price range. My dad was put on to SWFA scopes by a former military guy who has high praise for their rugged build and dependability, quality glass, and full spec features list. Boy am I glad he did! I was fortunate to grab up the scope with covers and sunshade extender, shipped to my door for $457! Leading up to that purchase and afterwards, I have struggled to find anything comparable with a price tag less than $750-$800 and that’s being conservative.

I still have not made it to the range yet, but I’m moving closer to that part of the process. Looking forward to seeing what the x-Bolt set-up will do and will update when I find out.

Late April Crappie Fishing Trip
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Spring is definitely ahead of normal pace and the near-spawn hungry and shallow crappies are proof. We took advantage of light(-ish) winds yesterday – necessary to survive big lake adventures in a canoe – and headed out with 3 dozen minnows in the aerated 5-gallon bucket. It took over 3 hours to locate some brush with any receptive fish, but we finally did. The males were scattered along a 40-50 foot stretch of brushy shoreline and the larger females were staging 10-15 feet further offshore in 3-4′ deeper water. We landed around 15 with 5 throwbacks. The keepers ranged from just 1/8-1/4″ over the 9″ minimum to 2, 12″ers. 9 keeper crappie with one bonus bluegill in total.

Spring crappie fishing has become of the activities that I most look forward to because Raelyn enjoys it so much. The only thing that took us back to the boat ramp yesterday was her almost having a bathroom emergency. Hopefully this weekend’s rain and windy forecast does not put the rest of the crappie spawn fishing in jeopardy, because we’d love to get out a time or two more to keep stocking the freezer.

Pronghorn Hunting—What’s the Allure?
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This post is based on a conversation I had with dad about a month ago, and he shared some insights that I hadn’t quite pieced together in my own mind yet. I have always thought that pronghorn hunting should not be as fun as it is – stated another way, the experience of antelope hunting is always more fun and more enjoyable and more satisfying than you would predict given the old adage “anything worth having is worth working hard for.” Because let’s be honest – most of the time, a hunter does not have to work hard to fill his antelope tag.

For the Eastern white-tail hunter (long way of identifying hunters like my dad), it’s an ultra-packed compression of an entire season’s long effort into what could potentially boil down to a 60 or 90 minute episode of extreme intensity. At most, the entire 3 or 4 months of a deer season grind will play out over the course of 5 or 6 days; it amplifies, magnifies, swells – several low low lows, several high high highs. In course of an Easterner’s whitetail deer season, you might have a week or two or even a month to recover from a low before you replace that feeling with a high (only exception might be from instant you release an arrow, suspect a hit, and the drama-filled sequence to recovery). In pronghorn hunting, the months-long journey of a deer season transpires almost overnight, sometimes quite literally. That rollercoaster of emotion is what a pronghorn hunt is at its heart.

Pronghorn hunting is supremely enjoyable for adults, but think about the implications for introducing new hunters to the outdoors, or better yet – children and youth. It is exactly these sort of experiences that offer promise of action, animals, some shooting, and likely a filled tag. While punching tags should not be the end-all-be-all of any hunt, success sure goes a long ways in ensuring that introductory moment to the outdoors is a memorable one, and provides a taste that keeps young (can also be read new) hunters engaged, interested, and hungry for more.

Spring Smallies
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A buddy and I took the ol’ red canoe on its maiden 2017 voyage last Saturday. Even though we were both anxious to do a bit more spring deer scouting for next fall, the weather was just too perfect combined with solid water conditions to let go by the wayside. I took a simple approach from the first cast to the last – white Fluke Jr. on one rod and a small jighead with a 2” plastic greenish orange crawfish looking creature on the other. I ended up with 6 bites in a 6 hour float – not exactly on-fire fishing – and landed 4 fish. Five of my 6 bites came from within 10 feet of obvious rock and boulder structure, and all but one fish came on the jighead on a moderate speed up-down-up jigged retrieve. The highlight of the day was one of my best smallies ever, didn’t measure but I’d guess in the 16-17” range, as well as the diverse bird life that we encountered. Lots of paired off wood ducks, a great-horned owl that we bumped into twice, and the birding highlight – a stunning couple of black-crowned night herons.

Kodiak Winter Kill Update – Planning for 2017 Sitka Hunt
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As far as any more threat of significant winter kill on Kodiak, I think the deer get a reprieve until next year. This winter was nearly unprecedented, at least for recent decades, in terms of sustained bitter cold temperatures, but the precipitation that would have turned the island into a deer morgue never fell. Had it, kill-offs exceeding 50% of the total population would have almost assuredly been widespread with pockets of 70-90% mortality in particularly exposed portions of Kodiak. Thankfully, precipitation levels were below average – disaster averted for all hunters who took advantage of Alaska’s 2016 license/permit prices and booked Kodiak adventures earlier than normal.

Just last week, temperatures hit 50 degrees and the snow line is up above 600-800’ in elevation. Though there was some winter kill, mostly last year’s fawns, it was localized (reports seem to suggest ~50% of northwest corner of the island’s fawn crop is toast). I’ve heard multiple explanations from different folks on what reasons are truly behind die-offs on Kodiak Island, and though I don’t claim to know exactly which line of reasoning holds the most water, it is interesting.

To me, the one that makes the most sense (to me at least) is one twist on an ecological trap. To steal a definition from Wiki, an ecological trap is any scenario where rapid change in the environment leads organisms to actively select poor quality habitat. Browsing exposed alder and willow brush tips or any other available terrestrial forage would provide the highest quality nutritional profile for Sitkas in the dead of winter. However, when winter storms drop high snow amounts in short periods of time, deer are pushed down to the beaches. At low tide, beaches provide not only refugia from the deep snow but lots of green vegetation, kelp and seaweed that exposed by a receding tideline. Deer take advantage of an apparently fortuitous circumstance, but the trap lies in the extraordinarily low amount of nutrients provided by such aquatic forage. For deer already in poor and stressed condition, Sitkas literally starve to death on full stomachs.

(This hypothesis stands in slight contrast to a post I made 2 years ago on the blog regarding deer over-abundance which examined some data from another of Alaska’s seaward islands.)

For dad and I, we are still planning to hunt the northwest quadrant of the island, and I have not re-scheduled our drop location from the original alpine lake we chose. I will wait until the Kodiak game and fish biologists have had a chance to do spring surveys before contacting them to get one final verdict on how the Sitka deer population fared through the 2016-17 winter. In the meantime, here is a forum thread that I’ve followed the past month and there are a few other anecdotes floating around on the Interweb that provide some insight as well.

Quote of the Day
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“When you let yourself touch the pain and sorrow of live animals and trees as they become food and wood for humans, participating in that great mystery of recombination in which life dies only to bring forth new life. . .when you put your hands up to the elbows into the womb of nature through fishing, farming, hunting, logging, and tenderly caress the place from where life springs, lamenting as well when it departs its current shape. . .then truly is it difficult to reduce the world neatly into the quick and the dead, the knowing and the unconscious.”
-Ted Kerasote in his essay “Logging”

While I might not agree with every single nuance and implication of Ted’s statement, I do immensely enjoy reading his short works on environmental issues. In that he has achieved a pretty darn good sense of balance between use and preservation of the earth’s natural resources, he is certainly one of the good guys. As someone who actively participates in the cycle of life, I can personally attest that personal engagement does something to you, something positive, something that can’t be replicated in any other way.

Infolinks 2013