Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Brook

     A woodcock fluttered up and away my very first time there. That was eleven years ago and it seemed like a pretty good omen. Barbed wire buried inches beneath the bark of softwood trees told it once was a pasture. In places, remnants of old fields still border the stream, but alders and poplar are squeezing the grasses away.
     Every year the brook changes when the spring runoff chews away at its banks and tumbles streamside trees. One favorite bend used to be around a narrow gravel bar, but has grown to nearly the size of a tennis court. The stream is a property bound and someday it will be interesting to sort out who owns what, but that isn’t a worry now.
     On the north side of the stream, softwoods cover the flat valley bottom. Soft needles and moss muffle footsteps, and moose and deer keep a path well trampled. 
      In places the ferns are waist high, easily tall enough to hide dwarfs, elves, and forest creatures. It is a magical place. Farther from the stream, the land abruptly climbs and the forest changes to mixed hardwoods. Along this edge is where the exploding ruffed grouse live.
     Brook trout hide in the stream’s shadows, beneath undercut banks and fallen tree trunks. In the fall they slip up some of the tiny feeder streams to reproduce, sometimes in places that are so shallow their backs are out of the water. It is best to give them some privacy then, so I stay away.
     Fishing downstream, sinking flies in the deeper holes or among the shadows along the banks, you will eventually come to the alder flats. In October, when the weeds finally lay flat, the woodcock will be found feeding in the soft soil beneath those alders. Some great memories linger in that tangle. But by mid-November the place feels as empty as a ghost town.
     Further downstream a bit, beavers keep trying to dam the stream, but always disappear after the dams get started. Possibly someone traps them out, but the abandoned barriers create lovely tranquil pools. There, a tiny dry fly often coaxes a trout into doing something stupid, or at least showing its location. The trusty old green woolly bugger usually catches the biggest fish.
     Most of the trout are gently put back into the stream. A whopper would be as long as the spread of a man’s hand, but those are rare. Occasionally, a couple medium sized ones will come home to be cooked in bacon fat for breakfast. A kingfisher might protest, but he can catch his own trout.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Thunder of Wings

It's that time of the year.
     Two days ago, while walking to the compost, a young grouse exploded out of the weeds beside our field, startling me and brightening my day. On the way back to the house two more thundered to the air, catching the attention of Maggie, our youngest German wirehair. For the next twenty minutes she hunted that patch of woods hard, but found no more birds.
     It is the time of the year when the young grouse are exploring their world. The young birds are not always the brightest and either they learn quickly or end up as somebody’s dinner. Often they appear dazed at a roadside and would make easy pickings for hawk. By October they are a different bird, wary and wild.
     Fortunately, at this time of the year, there is a smorgasbord of things to eat. Blueberries are abundant and soon raspberries will follow. Insects are everywhere, to supply much needed protein. All sorts of plants are going to seed,
Her young were hiding in the weeds.
     Two weeks ago, a short distance down our gravel road, a grouse stood like a statue while her brood hunkered down in the roadside weeds. Before we could get pictures, she strutted into the brush to vanish.
     A week before that the same experience happened on a logging road miles in the woods. That one sat for a picture.
     On the way to a blueberry patch this morning we saw a woodcock standing on the asphalt of a winding back road. Before the camera could come out it leapt into the air to fly away in the classic erratic flight of a woodcock. A friend had asked only a day or so ago if I had seen any woodcock lately and I had said no.

     Is it going to be a good bird hunting year? Only a fool will make a prediction. In the meantime the brookies are biting and there are blueberries to pick. 

Headed for a pie.