Sunday, September 28, 2008

Smaller things

I've long aspired to be a "naturalist hunter" who knows more than just how to identify the prey he seeks. I prefer to be passing familiar with and able to name the various forbs, grasses, trees, bushes, birds and non-game species and would like to know something about their lives and interactions as well. Of course, part of this is in service to becoming a more effective hunter, as knowledge of habitat is closely linked to knowledge of game, but there is more to it than that. Being familiar with the countryside and knowing about it strikes me as both more respectful of game and as adding a substantially to the interest in a day afield. After reading Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" back in my teens I formalized this aspiration, though the general interest in things natural has been inherent for as long as I can recall. Consequently, I carry field guides around a lot, although I don't use them as often as I should and I have a hard time remembering the names of flowers even after I've keyed them out. I also count myself lucky if I can name a quarter of the plants or birds encountered in a day.

I realize that no one can know everything, or even most things, about a given habitat. People who spend their entire lives outdoors in formal or informal study still get surprised or mystified, which is kind of the point to the whole thing. Nonetheless I get a fair bit of satisfaction from adding a new bit of knowledge about natural things.

The last few trips out have involved a lot of looking at and trying to identify mushrooms. I've been interested in edible wild mushrooms for a while, but dire warnings and complete unfamiliarity with the fungi kept me from exploring it much. Classes and field events by the local mycological society consistently fell at the wrong time, too. However, after an introduction to the subject by those in the know and some time with the books, I've started looking more closely. A recent trip hunting for grouse (unsuccessful, I'm not sure that this is a very good grouse year) provided a chance to put names to things I've seen before, wondered at, but never identified. For that matter, it also provided a whole other layer of things to notice. Mushrooms (not just animal tracks) underfoot, grouse to look out low down and in the middle distance, and larger fauna out at the limit of sight.

Fall is creeping up- the aspens hadn't gone yellow, but the ferns that grow in this wet corner of the mountain range are crispy and brown and the plants in the draws are getting a little color. The morning started out auspiciously, on the drive up a nice six-by bull elk loped out of a draw and paused on a small ridge a short hundred yards away, posing against the skyline. The weather was almost cool, enough so for easy walking, but Booker still got dry and was grateful for the few springs running now that the afternoon rains have tapered off:

As to fungi, first, a red belted polypore- common and inedible, but interesting, especially if you take the time to look:

Check out the lovely white underside:

Next, a dye polypore:

Also inedible but funky and cool. An earthstar, ditto:

Lots of unidentified fungi, too. Apart from those, a few shaggymanes and puffballs provided a bit of flavor the our grouse-less dinner once home.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Predator encounter

While up in Alaska I was fortunate enough to get a pretty good look at one of the local predators- a short-tailed weasel. I was even able to get video. If you watch, ignore the silly squeaky lip noises and clicking. I saw the little dude zipping around in the brush and, after he darted right up to me once, I was trying to lure him into camera range. Since it worked, the silly noises qualify as "woodcraft" rather than "embarrassing".

Blogger's video quality isn't great, but I'm not YouTube savvy so there it is.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fishing trip

Well, back from another week on the Copper River Delta fishing for silver salmon. As always, it was a very good time. The fish were in and running large for the most part. They were also picky and a few days were slow as a consequence. The moody nature of salmon seems to make up a bit for their abundance, in terms of fishing difficulty. Frequently, they're also fairly challenging to land and my strike-to-landed fish ratio was not great.

A couple of young bull moose:

The closest we came to a bear- these tracks were about four hours old, as the tide had this area covered with water until that time:

It doesn't look like a huge bear, but he's got a decent sized track:

A 14 1/2 lb coho, my largest to date and the first fish of the trip for me:

Sunrise at the Cordova Rose Lodge, where we've stayed these last half-dozen trips:

The Rose is very fisherman-friendly and a comfortable place to stay.

The trail into one of the fishing spots:

Now its time to think about birds and big game.