Chad Love on the lack of advocacy for grassland and prairie conservation. He makes the point that there is little public land for the public to access to develop an appreciation for the grasslands. I think he's on to something. I've written before on how a regular connection to a place encourages advocacy for its preservation. Western states that limit out-of-state licenses are making a mistake in some respects, in my opinion, by shutting out or limiting a national audience that cares about habitat, which is often on federal land. As Chad notes, there is precious little federal prairie for people to tramp about, hunt across, camp on, or care for in contrast to the millions of acres we can access further west.
New to this blog roll, and off Querencia, find Hits and Misses: "Hunting, fishing, cooking and other critical aspects of life". Gee, nothing simpatico there at all. In any event, check out Gerard Cox's reworking of a sporterized Lee Enfield in the style of a British sporting rifle. Neat work.
Last weekend was the first weekend of quail season in New Mexico. A and I got out and checked for a couple of coveys we'd seen earlier in the year. We didn't find those birds, but drove and walked and, eventually, put up 4 coveys. One of those was only a few birds and got a pass, but the others were decent coveys of a dozen or more.
We lost the better part of one covey after they flushed, then ran, peeling out of the group until you're left chasing 1 or 2 birds (a desert quail specialty). After that we swung back through the area where they had first broken up hoping to find some singles or the rest of the covey. A pair got up and I dropped one a ways out. Booker had it marked and started a nice retrieve, then, on his way back, kicked up another couple of birds only ten yards away. Thinking we had a bird in hand, I shot one of those as well. Unfortunately, finding the bird is more fun than bringing it all the way back to hand, and Books dropped his bird to go find the new one. The bird dropped wasn't dead yet, and when we went to pick it up had left only a few saliva gummed feathers behind and was never to be found. Not a great performance in any aspect. On the other hand, it was the first day of the season.
Most interesting part of all this?
Blues and bobwhites, living together. Well, at least in proximity.
In celebration of running into some wild bobwhites, we fried our birds and ate them with cream gravy, rice, sauteed greens, black eyed peas and cornbread.
Here's to hoping we can find a few more this weekend. While far from a good year for quail, at least there are a few birds out there.
In a decent quail year, if one was willing to drive a couple hundred miles in a day and had just a little bit of luck, I think you could manage a 4 species, all NM quail slam with bobwhites, blues, Gambel's, and Mearns. One of these days, I'd like to find out, just 'cause.
A couple of years (well, apparently 4 years) ago, Booker and I came across an unusual duck and I speculated on these pages that it was a bird in eclipse plumage, or perhaps a hybrid. A number of folks commented and offered informed opinions or guesses as to what exactly we had, but no definitive answer was forthcoming.
Recently, flipping through some outdoor wish book or another, I became aware that Greenhead Gear™ is making a "hybrid black duck decoy".
Looks just about the same to me:
Once again, the internet answers all questions (a Google Image Search for "hybrid black duck" further suggests that the bird we got was indeed just that).
This year turned out to be no great shakes for mushrooming in our part of the Southwest. The Pacific Northwest is having an epic year for mushrooms, and parts farther north of had a good year and did well, but we just didn't see much. We started off with some cauliflower mushrooms and some oysters, but the boletes never did appear, even after the big rain in September.
Some friends of ours were up in our old stomping grounds in north central NM (their old stomping grounds, too, as far as that goes) and found king boletes in September as well as what they were pretty sure were lobster mushrooms. Up north again soon after, they made a positive ID and found a few that were still good. From what they say, it was a really nice flush of lobsters, something we've never come across. J & T generously shared their haul, so we made a "lobster" risotto after slicing a couple up, sauteing them in butter, and just eating them.
5 c grouse stock
1 c white whine (can't manage white whine? any color or ethnic background whine will also work, just make sure it is at least off dry).
1 1/2 c arborio rice or other medium grain rice
1/3 c finely chopped white onion or shallot.
fresh Italian parsley
1 c (or more!) chopped lobster mushroom
A description of making risotto can be found here (not coincidentally, that risotto also featured gift fungus), so if you're not familiar with the process, you can read about it there.
We've had lobster mushrooms in a dish of rabbit in brown sauce at "Local 360" in Seattle, which was a wonderful dish. Without diminishing the accomplishments of that chef, I'm inclined to credit the mushrooms, as this risotto was most excellent, without any other special ingredients or technique. The mushroom is toothsome and manages to combine seafood notes with a bit of earthiness, far superior to the crustacean version in my mind and a lot less work.
Perhaps we'll get another big rain late in the season next year. If that happens, A and I are trekking up north to find us some dirt lobster.
We just finished our first big game hunt of the year, a SE New Mexico pronghorn hunt. In "The Heart of the Game", Thomas McGuane opines that "Hunting in your own backyard becomes with time, if you love hunting, less and less expeditionary." I love that essay and have considered his idea carefully, but haven't found myself at that place yet. A and I set out with an ice chest with 60 pounds of ice, another small ice chest with drinks and lunch, and a couple of big empties for quarters should things work out. We also each had a rifle, and binos, and our hunting packs minus all the survival gear, for we were within eyesight (not that that means much in the west) of town, about a half hour from our house.Not quite expeditionary, but not exactly traveling light.
The country is grass flats and low ridges and mounds of greasewood and mesquite and there are quite a few antelope on our allotted area. Better still, we only had to share with one other hunter, whom we never saw.
The first day, we had a good stalk on a really nice buck who was busy confronting a little guy. We got to within two hundred yards before getting made and never quite got to where we could get a shot at him. Much later, we saw a nice buck and two does a half-mile out, angling along a low ridge and then over it. We drove ahead, parked, and then snuck up to that ridge ourselves, resulting in A collecting her first big game with a nice shot at the standing buck. Between A's aversion to having her photo appear and the work of trying to get some meat in the box, we didn't take any pictures. Nonetheless, it was a good start to the year. A fair stalk and a good shot, taking him at 240 yards from shooting sticks followed by dressing and quartering on her own, with me holding the odd leg out of the way and offering too much advice.
Today, pressure off, we went back out to see if I could fill my tag. A came to spot, carry, provide moral support, and took a few photos as well. The first stalk was good, getting us to within 200 yards or so of a buck who was a bit small, so we backed out, leaving him bedded with his harem of does, and drove and glassed until we found a bit heavier-headed fellow all by himself. A bit of a ridge provided cover to walk, then walk bent over, then crawl, then slither up until we had closed to about 250. The buck was bedded, so I eased into a sitting position, settled into the sling, then set the rifle across my lap and took up the glasses to wait.
A half hour later, he stood up, walked a little ways, stopped, and I shot him, a bit farther forward than I should have, breaking the shoulder as well as getting lung. Now we've got meat to cut and a couple of nice racks for the mantle.
A few images from the hunt:
Figuring out the first stalk:
and getting down to the low parts:
When you get low and slow, you can bump into all sorts of things:
If I were to caption that, it would be something like "oh, crap!" as Mr. Jackrabbit was frozen upon finding himself way too close to a predator, flight paralyzed by proximity and fight not really an option. On the other hand, this guy inspired a momentary "oh, crap!" from me,
until a second glance registered the narrow head and distinctive shovel nose of a hog- nosed snake. See the shovel snout?
The better to dig out frogs and toads with. Given that we were right on the edge of a prairie dog town, I was on pretty high alert for rattlers. Our walk up the hill became a crawl and, let me assure any readers that don't already know, forty-something knees do not like 80 yard crawls at all. Not one little bit.
Settled into the sling, waiting for the buck to get up:
and then the end of the hunt:
The rifle bears mention. First, it is a .243 Winchester Model 70 featherweight in the "classic" action. The re-construction of the justly vaunted pre-64 model 70, Dad bought this rifle when US Repeating Arms announced it was closing the New Haven plant and it looked like there wouldn't be any more Model 70's. Controlled round feed, big claw extractor, smooth as silk out of the box and with a trigger that, once the glue had been scraped off the adjustment screw to, you know, adjust it, breaks nicely at two pounds. It's been waiting for a hunt for a few years now and Dad brought it out for me to use on this one. It'll hold 100 grain Sierra boat tails in an inch at a hundred and a better pronghorn gun I can't really imagine.
A couple of layers of vet wrap and some duct tape go a long way toward mitigating hot sand, grass burrs, and mesquite thorns.
We had a decent dove opener. One slow-ish day, one with plenty of opportunities. Booker even got a water retrieve:
Dad used his Ithaca 37 (49 years of bird shooting with that gun) to run a limit at 1.5 shells per bird. For me, it required 3.15 shells per bird (and, I just realized, 25 years of shooting my Citori). I didn't quite limit but it wasn't for lack of opportunity. A isn't discussing her average right now. She's only been shooting a shotgun for five years at this point.
Booker is just glad to get out and pick up a bird, even if it is a hundred degrees out there.
Hope everyone else had a good start to the best time of year.
Ribes comprise the genus of currants and gooseberries, of which a number of wild varieties grow in the southwest mountains (and other places as well, I'm sure). I've been calling all those plants "currants" for a while, which is wrong, but "gooseberry" doesn't fit them all, either, so I suppose "ribes" will be safe for now. A while back I posted about some plants that A and I thought were black currants or maybe wolf currants. After a friend suggested gooseberry, closer inspection and some taxanomic research has led us to conclude they are most likely orange gooseberries, (ribes pinetorum, if you will) with a couple of bushes of mescalero currants as well.
Mescalero currant flowers- no fruit yet:
Orange gooseberry still with flower:
I've seen the prickly bushes in various ranges in NM over the years, but never bearing much in the way of fruit. This year, the orange gooseberries in our local mountains looked to put on a pretty heavy crop, and we've been keeping an eye on them. Recently, we stopped off on a mushroom expedition and took advantage of some bushes carry lots of ripe fruit.
Hank Shaw details dealing with them, a common sense sort of method- pick (wearing leather gloves), wash, boil briefly, mash, then strain. In our case, forty minutes of picking resulted in a few pounds of nice purple/black fruit, which resulted in enough juice for a recipe and a half of jelly. Straining the pulp of mashed ribes through a layer of old t-shirt set in a colander resulted in a nice clear juice.
For our ribes pinetorum jelly, we relied upon the Ball Blue Book's directions for "juice for jelly" as described for red currants:
6 1/2 c orange gooseberry juice, extracted by a washing, then briefly simmering the berries, mashing them with a potato masher and then straining them through a cloth.
1 package pectin. Cooked following the directions in the book (or on the back of the pectin package).
The resulting jelly came out pretty, but is pretty undistinguished. Surprisingly reminiscent of prickly pear jelly, it is sweet with some of the same watermelon note, if less pronounced and perhaps a bit of a similar green note underlying the fruit. Overall, the berry flavor is more pronounced than with prickly pear. Still not nearly as good as elderberry or rosehip, to my taste, for our next batch we'll probably add a little lemon juice to try to brighten things up and perhaps get a more firm set. Another thought would be to steep a couple of ripe Thai chiles in with the fruit, to make a sweet/hot jelly. In the meantime, the elderberries look to make a crop, if not as heavily as last year, and we spotted some big rose hips up north if we can get to them. Of course, bird season opens in just three weeks, too. Things are looking to get busy.
A recent trip to local mountains resulted in A spotting the first of what turned out to be three nice cauliflower mushrooms:
Cauliflower shrooms have a slightly citrus-y scent and a firm texture and, despite it being a pain to clean the dirt and duff out of the various little curls and cavities, one of my very favorites of the wild edibles we know and are comfortable harvesting. While this example appears pretty brown, which might indicate age, it was firm and bug-free. Once home, we sliced, cleaned, and sauteed one of the heads in a bit of butter and then simmered it with a little water until tender, finishing with both spices, salt and pepper, then a squeeze of lemon juice. Nothing more required.
We also found a few oyster mushrooms and apparently missed a large fruiting by a few days or a week. Most of the oysters were dried out and leathery. Still enough for topping a pizza came our way. So, a few edibles, some of the first that we've come across in these recent drought years.
The oysters weren't the only mushrooms that we found past edibility, we're pretty sure this is one of several lobster mushrooms we came by that had turned soft and buggy:
"Lobster mushrooms" are actually a fungus which colonizes and converts existing mushrooms to a different form. Here you can see some of the structure of the original 'shroom under the lumps and thickening:
These weren't white and crisp, but rather brown and buggy. A few years ago, we had an excellent dish of rabbit and lobster mushrooms at Local 360. If we'd have found these guys in time, the rabbits would have had to look out- we might have tried to re-create it. Perhaps later or next year.
As a last note on recent observations in the higher, wetter country, does a bear sit in the woods?
Of course- in this case, just like a big dog. I've also seen them in the very human-like pose of sitting with their legs straight out in front of them.
By the way, "All that the Rain Promises and More" is the title of my favorite mushroom guide, a pocket book by David Aurora, who also wrote the seminal (but definitely not hip-pocket) "Mushrooms Demystified".
As document at points north, and points north and east, drought hasn't broken but it has at least bent with some storms over the last few weeks. A slightly early monsoon summer that's trying to work up some decent moisture. I hold out faint hopes for quail this fall.
A and I got out and about a bit, heading over to our local mountains:
We found a couple of mushrooms, to wit- shaggymanes, but they were just off a well traveled road, so we admired but did not harvest:
More recently, we hit some of our old stomping grounds with some friends, checking out the fungi scene. A few shaggymanes, some puffballs, some others, but apart from this find:
(you must embiggen, once done, you're looking at a field expedient harvesting tool, a/k/a a knife taped to a stick, used to cut oyster mushrooms just too far up a dead aspen for the unassisted reach of man).
We also saw a couple of grouse, including a hen with chicks and a cock-bird unaccountably strutting back in the trees.
All in all, positive signs. A little more rain and things won't be nearly as grim come fall and winter.
The flavor of the spruce tips we recently came across- citrus, pine, faintly berry, seemed a good pairing for salmon. Having some coho fillets in the freezer from last fall, we essayed to cure and smoke some salmon for summer snacking. For a first try, the cure was:
1 1/2 c kosher salt, processed with 2 T spruce tips until the tips were finely ground, then allowed to infuse overnight;
1 c white sugar (brown sugar seemed to overpoweringly sweet, with the molasses element competing with the spices)
1 heaping T coarse ground black pepper
1 heaping T coarse ground white pepper
I didn't use all of the cure, but patted two fillets (small fillets, a little over 2 lb each) with a cup or so, then wrapped them tightly with plastic wrap (leaving the excess cure on) and refrigerated them, under weight, for twelve hours. We then unwrapped and rinsed the fillets, which had lost about a half a cup of moisture.
Patted dry, they went on a rack in the refrigerator overnight to develop a tacky surface to aid smoke absorption.
Next morning, the fillets went on the smoker. This time I used cherry wood, courtesy of a dwarf tree that decided life in southern NM was too much for it. Five and a half hours later (what Fearnley-Whittingstall calls "rough smoking", that is, neither true cold-smoking below 90 F, nor hot smoking at a temperature to cook) I declared the salmon done.
The verdict? More spruce. Next time, I'd use three times the amount of spruce tips or as much as I had available. Also, more of both peppers, and a little less salt. The spruce is very faint and the pepper isn't detectible at all. That said, the cherry wood produced a very nice smoke and the finished salmon is quite good. Perhaps we'll serve it with a spruce tip mayonnaise.
Relying mostly on a recipe from the Boreal Gourmet, A and I took some of our recently gathered spruce tips (actually, douglas-fir in our case) and made shortbread.
Removing the "paper", the brown capsule around the tip, is a bit time consuming but not onerous, akin to removing elderberry stems or shelling peas. The flavor from the fir tips when chopped very finely with sugar is quite interesting. A bit of pine (unsurprising), lemon, and a hint of raspberry (!). The flavor is long lasting but doesn't express itself right up front.
I'd say these would be fantastic Christmas cookies- a little bit of spice and fruit with a nice green garnish. We used:
1/4 c (packed) doug fir tips, papery brown husks removed and minced very fine is a food processor with 1/2 c plus 1 T sugar
1 cup of butter
2 1/4 c flour
and 1/4 t salt
Baked at 325 F until light brown. Reserve a tablespoon of spruce sugar to sprinkle over the top of the cookies.
Worth collecting some tree limbs for the cookies alone, salmon and spruce to follow.
Booker has, over the course of the last few years, informed me that certain types of eats fall under the category of "Chesapeake Heritage Foods". I'm sure others who are familiar with the breed (I'm looking at Chas and Chad) have encountered this phenomenon.
Considerable thought has led me to conclude that Chesapeake Heritage Foods are those things that are particularly appealing to Chessies because of the role those foods played in feeding Chessies and proto-Chessies over the development of the breed. Basically, some things speak to the Ur-dog, some flavors call up the memory of generations of water dogs in the past and are, accordingly, particularly appealing to the Chessie of today.
Some Chesapeake Heritage Foods are not particularly surprising given the breed's long association with coastal areas and parts of the South- for instance, oysters, fried fish and hush puppies are very clearly Chesapeake Heritage Foods, the latter so strongly favored that they are known to us as "corn dogglers". In fact, Booker prefers a hush puppy to a piece of fish out of the same oil. However, other items that qualify as Chesapeake Heritage Foods call for a little research about the history of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers in the U.S. and, in turn, American history.
A recent example is spruce tips. Booker assures me that these are, in fact, a Chesapeake Heritage Food.
I surmise that spruce tips (which are quite tasty and no doubt good for you) probably entered the category of Chesapeake Heritage Food through the experiences of Seaman, who, while not a CBR, was a Newfoundland, one of the breeds that went into creating Chessies. Thus, spruce tips got in at the ground floor of the breed, so to speak, as Seaman no doubt shared spruce tips with the rest of the Corps of Discovery during their various times of privation, and possibly during times of plenty as a bit of change of pace as well. A famous dog when he got back (sturdy from lots of elk, bison, and Vitamin C from spruce tips), Seaman most likely contributed to the foundation stock of CBRs, directly or through a couple of removes. That genetic memory no doubt has led to the popularity of spruce tips as a Chessie snack today.