Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Neighbors

We have some strange neighbors around our house. Some of them like to steal the pears and apples from our small backyard orchard. Others are pretty slow at getting around. There's one neighbor that we normally see only after dark. Some are noisy, and others hardly make a sound. Several of the neighbors like to fly, while some love climbing trees. Others are perfectly content to stay on the ground. Some of the neighbors ensure that our garden produces every year, while others help themselves to the harvest without being invited. Some can be a real pain, especially if you make them mad. Another one likes to hang out around our carport and enclosed porch. One of the neighbors even decided to move in and build a house in one of our ferns!

Now I'm sure you've all figured out by now that I didn't decide to write a blog post talking all about our human neighbors, all of whom are fine folks that we are fortunate to live near. No, this post is all about our neighbors from the animal kingdom. For some reason, the past several days have been great ones for wildlife watching around our house. Thanks to modern technology, and the ever-present iPhone, I now have a camera handy and accessible when the opportunity arises to take a picture of one of the neighbors. At the same time, I'll go ahead and apologize if some of the pictures in this post are not of the very best quality. Most of the pictures were taken while I was outside doing something else, and often they were situations where I had to snap a picture quickly or not at all. With that being said, allow me to introduce some of the neighbors.

The Pear Thieves
Doe Under the Pear Tree
 These neighbors are fond of pears, but also green beans, tomatoes, sweet potato vines, and almost anything else that I attempted to grow in the garden this year. The only things that they left me were my peppers, and they even nibbled on the tops of those! Ever since we moved in to our house, we have seen deer fairly frequently. Sometimes we will see them at night in the headlights as we're pulling into the driveway. This time of year however, the old pear and apple trees in the back yard tend to draw them out during daylight hours. They also conducted regular nocturnal raids on our garden this year. In years past we've had a little bit of damage from deer, but this year they wiped the garden out. If anyone has any effective methods for keeping deer out of a garden, I would love to hear them!

The Pollinators
Bumble Bee on Zinnia
This next neighbor is always a welcome sight in the garden. Bumble bees and honey bees are a fairly common sight around our house, and since the garden has past its prime now they have moved from the garden to my wife's flower beds. I'm always happy to see healthy populations of pollinators, even though I do have a healthy respect for their stings. Most of the time, however, we tend to get along pretty well. I try not to disturb them, and they stay busy moving from one bloom to another. 

The Slow Poke
Eastern Box Turtle
This neighbor tends to be fairly slow getting around. Even though he sometimes likes to sample the cantaloupe in the garden, he's a fairly easygoing neighbor. He's also the state reptile of North Carolina, and the only land turtle we have in our state. This eastern box turtle, (or one of his relatives) is a fairly infrequent visitor to our yard. Yesterday was the first time I've seen him this year, but chances are he could have been around when I wasn't there to see him. A quick bit of research showed me that box turtles are extremely long lived reptiles, and this makes me wonder if this is the same turtle I sometimes saw around our house (my grandparents' house then) when I was a young boy. Either way, I don't mind sacrificing the occasional bite from the garden if it'll help keep this slow moving neighbor around.

The Short-Lived Neighbor
Luna Moth
This next neighbor was photographed just by chance. As a young boy, I used to say that I wanted to be an entomologist when I grew up. I wound up an agriculture teacher instead, but somewhere deep down that fascination with bugs stayed with me. Maybe that's why I get such a thrill out of fly fishing for trout? All those stream insects to identify and match! Anyway, back to the subject at hand, I still enjoy seeing and identifying insects, even when they're not potential trout food. I can remember when I was young seeing a luna moth at my other grandparents' house one night, and being thrilled at seeing an insect that I had never seen before. I've only seen a few of these in the years since, possibly because the adults only live about a week and are mainly nocturnal. I was working in the yard yesterday when I just happened to spot this one on one of our pecan trees. They're big, impressive moths and I had to stop and take a picture. Somewhere inside, that little five year old entomologist was smiling from ear to ear!

The Nighttime Noisemakers
Katydid on Hosta
For some reason, I've been seeing a fair number of these nocturnal neighbors during the day. However, every night I go to bed hearing their serenades outside the window. This must be a good year for katydids, because they do seem to be everywhere. These are another insect that reminds me of childhood, spending the night at my grandparents' house and sleeping with the windows open. Without fail, the katydids always provided a concert after the sun went down.

The Home Builder

This next neighbor is a next door neighbor, in this case living right next to our door. I'm not 100% confident on my bird identification, but as near as I can tell this nest belongs to a house sparrow. She is camera shy and doesn't want to hang around long enough to get a picture, but I did very carefully take a picture of the nest and eggs today. She always flies off the nest but only to the nearest perch, a crepe myrtle just a few feet away from our carport. It will be fun watching her and seeing her raise her babies. 

The Short Tempered Neighbors
Wasps on the Nest
These neighbors are the kind of neighbor most people avoid. They tend to build along the underside of our front porch roof, in the carport, and on the window sills. Every summer there are several wasp nests around our house, and as much as I try to have a live and let live attitude when it comes to the neighbors, these usually wind up getting evicted when they get too close to home. The only problem is it seems like when I get rid of a nest, a new one takes its place rather quickly. Evidently our house must be prime real estate for wasps!

The Camera Shy Neighbors
There are several more neighbors that didn't want to have their picture made for this blog post. We have an American toad that hangs out around our driveway at night. There is a five-lined skink that sometimes sneaks into our screen porch, and tends to give my wife a surprise from time to time. The yard is home to several gray squirrels, who love our pecan trees, and the last few days it seems the back yard is where the local crows are holding their morning meeting. With the exception of the damaged garden, I enjoy having all these neighbors around. For the most part, we all get along fairly well. 

- Joseph

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reliving the Past

WARNING: The following post contains small fish, worms, and a little bit of sentimentality. Please read at your own risk. 

- Joseph

My earliest memories of fishing are all very similar. Unless it was surf fishing at the beach, fishing when I was young involved trips with Dad, ponds of some variety, and worms and bobbers. Often the quarry we were after were bream (bluegill), and they were usually more than willing to hit live bait. There were several places that we would go, but we had two or three ponds that we fished on a regular basis together. One of the places that we used to fish together was a fairly large pond located in a state park about twenty minutes or so down the road from our house.

Dad with a Trophy
After my trip to check out a new spot on the river the other day, I wasn't quite ready to put the fishing gear away for the day. On a whim, I called my Dad to see if he would be interested in going and fishing one of our old spots from my younger days. It had been a while since we had gone fishing together, and as I've gotten older I tend to fish a lot more rivers and streams with a fly rod. Dad's never been much of a fly fisherman, although I have talked him into going with me a few times. After talking it over, we decided that since it was a hot, bright sunny day we maybe ought to hedge our bets and pick up a container of red worms on the way to fish. I had planned on fishing spinners and small jigs on my ultralight spinning rod, but I figured having a Plan B was never a bad idea.
Little Bream

Once we got out to the lake, I started out fishing a small curly tailed grub on a jighead, while Dad went ahead and rigged up with a worm under a bobber. We saw a few small bass swimming around, but nothing I tried seemed to interest them. Meanwhile, Dad was getting bites on every cast, and seemed to be catching a fish on every other one. All the fish he was catching were small bream, but after a few minutes of trying to tempt bass that wouldn't even look at my lure, I decided that he was having too much fun not to join in. So for the first time in quite a while, I rigged up with a snelled #8 hook, attached a bobber about two feet above the hook, and put on a red worm. From that point on, it was more or less nonstop action.
View of the Lake

We worked our way around the lake, looking for bigger bream or maybe a bass that would be willing to bite, but it was more of the same small bream everywhere we tried. I'm not going to try to guess how many of the little guys we caught between us in a few hours of fishing, but I do know that catching so many little fish has never been so much fun. I couldn't help but think of the memories from my childhood of doing this exact thing with Dad, and how it got me hooked on fishing for a lifetime. Many of those trips were to this very place, catching bream on worms. I don't plan on trading my fly rods in anytime soon, but if Dad were to take a notion to go catch a few bream again I wouldn't hesitate to go. It wasn't about the fish this day, or even the style of fishing. It was all about having a chance to spend a few hours with the man who has been the biggest influence in my life, both on and off the water. Thank you Dad, for introducing me to the outdoors, and for everything else you've taught me in my 32 years on this earth. Let's do it again soon!

- Joseph

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Two Bass and a Train Trestle

I'm sure I'm like most fishermen, in that I tend to be a creature of habit. I have favorite rods, favorite flies and lures, and favorite fishing spots that tend to draw me back again and again. However, I think that another trait most fishermen have in common is the desire to explore new places and catch new fish. Sometimes this can lead to exotic locations with exotic species, or in other cases it means driving ten minutes down the road to check out a new spot that you've heard about. While things like bonefish on the fly are definitely on my bucket list, I still jump at the chance to fish anywhere new. One of my most recent fishing trips was just that, chasing down a rumor I'd heard about a fairly new publicly accessible spot on a local river.
View from the Fishing Hole

This particular river flows through my hometown, and isn't very far at all from my house as the crow flies. This river is also a tributary of another river that I fish a lot in the summer for smallmouth bass, and I have heard about smallmouth in the tributary for a long time.  However, there's not any access to fish the river right around home, as it flows through private land. I have been wanting to find a way to fish here for a long time, especially since it's so close to home.
Covered in Vines

Recently, the city downstream has opened a hiking trail that follows the river for about a mile and a half, and this led me to wonder about fishing opportunities along the trail. My wife and I went one evening to hike the new trail and check things out, and I just happened to carry along a spinning rod. You never can be too prepared, after all. On that first trip, we had a nice hike, saw some pretty scenery, and a little local wildlife including a green snake and a toad. I found out the trail itself was high above the river the whole way, and steep banks seemed to make accessing the river from the trail a difficult proposition. However, at the beginning of the trail there is a rough canoe/kayak access that has been built with access directly into the river. I made a few casts in the pool here, which looked fairly deep and fishy, but it was in the middle of the afternoon and the temperature was well above 90 degrees, so I wasn't surprised when all I managed were one or two faint strikes. This first trip just made me that much more curious to see what potential this place had. With that in mind, I made plans to get an early start the next morning.

First Fish of the Day
The next morning dawned bright and early, and I was at the river by a little after 7:00 am. I knew I wouldn't have too long to fish before the temperature starting climbing, and this was mainly a scouting expedition for future trips, so I left the fly rod at home. I decided to try fishing an inline spinner thinking that I had a fairly equal chance at catching almost anything in the river other than a catfish with that lure. Several casts later, I had my first fish of the morning. I was a little bit surprised to see a nice little largemouth bass on the end of the line, as smallmouth were the main fish I was expecting. I have caught a few largemouth over the years in the main river, but by and large the smallmouth seem to be the dominant species.
River Smallmouth

I took that first bass as a sign that I was hopefully on the right track, and just a few casts later I had a strike almost at my feet. This turned out to be the smallmouth that I had expected all along. After I released the smallmouth, I fished for a good while longer with just a half-hearted bump or two. The temperature was warming quickly and the sun was starting to shine directly on the water, and it seemed that the fishing turned off fairly quickly. Before I left, I took the time to do a little exploring around the old railroad trestle that spans the river just upstream from where I was fishing. As far as I can tell, this particular trestle is no longer in use, at least judging by the amount of vines growing on it.

Underneath the Trestle
All in all, it was a pretty successful morning of fishing and exploring. I'm thinking that I will have to bring the fly rod down here sometime and give some small poppers or streamers a try. I'm curious to see if the smallmouth in here have the same preference for blue and purple streamers that their relatives in the big river do. I'm going to have to come hike the trail here again too, since we didn't realize at the time that we didn't make it quite to the end. Who knows, that last few hundred yards of trail might be hiding another good place to fish. Either way, it'll be a good excuse to get outside and enjoy nature close to home.

- Joseph