Friday, October 28, 2011

This Land is …

Along the Clear Fork

I wanted to get an early start on the day. It started as one of those mornings when you’re unsure if you ever went to bed the night before. I stayed up to watch Game 6 of the World Series, which might go into the books as the best World Series game ever, or at least until another thriller comes along. The alarm went off before dawn and I was a bit rattled with less than five hours of sleep.
It was a gorgeous, star-filled sky that greeted me as I loaded my fishing tackle into the car. All those stars, not the kind for navigation, necessarily, more like the kind you can wish on. I was heading back down to the Clear Fork, a branch of the Mohican River, where Susan and I fished five days ago. I used to fish the stream a lot and our excellent day last Sunday whetted my appetite for more.
A giant go-cup of Starbucks in place, and Adele blasting out of a half dozen speakers in my car—I was on the road. Temperature just lifting it’s head above freezing guaranteed I’d be warmer in the water than on the land.
Ninety minutes later I swung into the dead end gravel drive that skirts the grain mill in Bellville and was on the water a bit after 8. Not bad.
On my third cast I had a great strike. The kind that keeps fisherman on the water longer than they should stay, and brings them back next week, filled with hope like a high school kid who thinks the best looking girl in the class winked at him and it was not some dust in her eye.
Some law-breaker was burning leaves at this early hour and it gave me hunger pains. Power to the people.
I worked a familiar stretch of water for four hours with nothing to show for my efforts save a squeaky rotator cuff. I managed to get myself into a spot that was deeper and a bit more challenging than I anticipated so I opted to head back to the car by cutting across an open field, rather than negotiate my way back on the stream. That’s when I saw the sign. Make that plural, signs.
Square, cobbled together pieces of wood that had nothing on them, at least from my vantage point, spaced about 10 feet apart. I walked over and read the other side. It said, in effect, No Nothing, Especially Fun. The stream was posted! No trespassing.

Immediately, Woody Gutherie’s comment came to mind. When he saw a sign that read “No Okies,” he said what was on the other side of the sign was meant for him. I wasn’t trespassing anyway, I was fishing.

A beautiful stretch of land forbidding fishers and anyone else from entry. What are the property owners afraid of, litter? So they mess up the place with hand-made signs and pieces of twine, guaranteed to keep the likes of me out—unless one approaches from the other side.
Songs can be like tattoos. In 1943 Woody wrote, “This Land is Your Land.” The song is as relevant today as it was then. It was and is about greed; the haves versus the have nots.
We are the 99%.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Perfect Timing

Susan Fishing the Clear Fork

So, when I reached the top of the mountain after an arduous climb, I asked the guru, “What’s the secret to lifelong happiness?” She put down her Kindle, looked at me and said, “Timing.”
That’s it? I’ve long understood that. If I’m ever lost in the woods, someplace where there’s not another soul in sight, I know I can always draw a crowd if I stop to pee. Simple.
Fishing Sunday I proved my theory and wasn’t even out of sight of the car. In fact, I was leaning against the car.
Susan and I spent a glorious day challenging trout on the Clear Fork River in central Ohio, one of few streams in our state cold enough to support browns and rainbows. Fishing should not be about competition; it’s about sport. And in true sport there are no winners and losers. But people always ask. On this day, Susan had a half dozen fish caught and released before I had a line in the water, almost. By the end of the splendid day we both had caught enough fish to brag about, saw plenty of birds to compare notes on, and had full tummies after a well-earned streamside lunch.

A Great Blue Heron fishing buddy

Within the six-plus hours we fished I saw maybe four cars pass along the road. A couple guys stopped to fish, then headed downstream from our spot. We had a spectacular stretch of river all to ourselves, all day. So, when It was time to take off our waders and head for home, I thought the two-hour drive would be more comfortable if I removed the sweat pants I was wearing inside my waders and slipped into my jeans.
Standing on the road, not a soul in sight, I proceeded to undress. About the time I had one leg out of the sweats and the other stuck in the cuff, along comes a giant silver Cadillac creeping at about five miles per hour, driven by a little old lady on Sunday. Classic. She was so low in the seat she had to look through the steering wheel to see the road. The window slowly lowers and, grinning, she says, “Fishing?”
Seems that the lady really wanted to chat and stopped right next to me as I balanced on one foot trying to preserve some dignity.
I thought Susan was going to choke with laughter, instead, she came to my rescue. She dashed around the car, set up an effective screen and chatted it up with the woman who was bent on telling us her life story—a long life story, it was, too. When I realized that the odds of this action to draw a crowd were not in my favor, I managed some fancy footwork, for a guy my age, got into my jeans and acted like nothing much out of the ordinary happened.
Just another day when my timing was a bit off the mark, or on, depending on one’s perspective.

Hey! Wasn't there a fish on the end of that line?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Netting Birds in Cleveland

Rare Hudsonian Godwits at Ottawa NWR made a spectacular appearance, thanks to northwest winds

Anyone familiar with bird banding knows birds must be trapped in fine-mesh mist nets before they are banded and released. And while banders do all they possibly can to insure the safety of the birds, accidents occasionally happen and birds die. I try to be philosophical about the process and hope the banded birds, or at least their bands, provide important data for the birding and science communities.
There’s another type of net out there, following if not trapping birds—capturing information and more. The mesh of the net has just tightened a bit. It’s part of an electronic net; another connection among birders in the local patch of birding networks. This net does no harm to the birds, although it might cause some frustration to birders—all part of the game—when a rare bird’s name pops up.
For those of us who enjoy birding, the current top spot for following what’s happening is the Ohio Ornithological Society’s list server at There are regional and national lists as well, but the closer to home you can find information, the better.
Now, thanks to the efforts of two of our area’s premier birders, Jen Brumfield ( and Gabe Leidy, we have a great source, What Jen and Gabe have done is add the weather to their bird reports, a critical element to birding that everyone talks about, but until now, few have done anything about.
Knowing which way the wind is blowing is key to locating rare birds in this area where we, ornithologically speaking—live or die at the mercies of Lake Erie.
Jen and Gabe seem to be prowling the edges of America’s north coast, constantly, regularly posting information for those of us who would like to be out there, facing those 30-knot winds in 10-below temperatures. Right. Some things are better left to the young and intrepid among us.
And if you’re interested in great bird art, check out Jen’s Web site. This artist’s talent belies her age. She has an international reputation for her art and her skills as a birding guide.
Now, we no longer need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

This Yellow-rumped Warbler rides the winds of migration through northeast Ohio

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When is a Tunnel Not a Tunnel?

The ones what got away

This is one of those fishing stories that says a lot about great scenery, etc., and not much, make that nothing, about catching fish.
Friday, I was standing on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Red River in east-central Kentucky. A more beautiful spot to fish for trout would be hard to find. As fishing buddy Tom says, “Trout don’t live in ugly places.” This spot was beyond gorgeous.
I had been warned that the water was low, however, as I examined a fishy-looking place just up from a foot bridge that crossed the stream, I was sure I could walk across the stream and not get my boot laces wet. Low water was an understatement.
It was obvious that the water was too low to support anything, especially trout. About that time a dozen brown trout shot past me heading for who knows where. It was one of those moments when all you can say is, “Hmmmm.” Fortunately, I had a camera in hand, not a fly rod, so I guess you could say I caught a dozen or so fish on electrons …
When you’re in a foreign country, like eastern Kentucky, and want to find fish, it’s always best to ask the locals—assuming you speak the same language.
Here’s the way the conversation went:
Local: Well, ya can git out there on the four lane and head up to road 77. It’s aways, just past, well that’s not a tunnel up there.
Me: Huh? It’s what?
Local: Not a tunnel.
Me: Aaa. If it’s not a tunnel, what is it?
Local: It’s not a tunnel.
Okay, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck so I knew when I was being the butt of a joke.
Off we went, up to road 77 and sure enough, what we found was Nada Tunnel. Not only was there a tunnel, there was a whole town called Nada Tunnel.
Damn fine day to find anything, even Nada Tunnel, if not a fish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Bad Days for Birders

American White Pelicans in formation over Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

I think it was Lance Armstrong who said words to the effect, there are no bad days. Some days are just better than others. And while the bicycling great was referring to life in general, maybe racing in particular, it also applies to birding.
Sunday was one of those rare days when lots of things came together to make it one of the better days: It was to be our first birding day with friends Pat and Karin, recently returned from a 14-month hiatus in Africa, weather was about as good as it gets in northeast Ohio in the fall, and Jason Lewis, manager at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) opted to open this sprawling natural area to cars—a rare occurrence.

A Great Egret does its morning stretching

Typically, ONWR does not allow auto traffic into the interior of the refuge. You can hike the area if you’re among the intrepid. This fall, Lewis and his ambitious crew worked especially hard to control water levels to encourage shorebird habitat during migration. The results of their efforts, especially after many battles with Mother Nature, were some dynamic birding spots.

Any perch works for a Great Blue Heron on a sunny morning

Loaded with high spirits and plenty of coffee, we packed into Pat and Karin’s new birding car well before dawn for the two-hour-long trip west. We anticipated a day of hectic hunting for small birds usually seen at a great distances, lots of walking and some great food. And while this was partially the case (especially the food), it proved to be a quite relaxing day with larger birds putting on spectacular displays, the kind that had the crowd oooing and aaaing.
Birds rarely seen in this area were a bonus: Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, Hudsonian Godwits and American White Pelicans all were crowd pleasers. In fact, the pelicans put on a better show than the Navy’s Blue Angels, according to some birders.

Colors of fall warblers can be confusing. Here, a Cape May Warbler

Warbler migration is about finished in our area, however, some late moving birds provided accents of color—and identification challenges—in the wooded areas. The day ended with about 70 species recorded, full stomachs and even a bit of sunburn. We’ll be replaying this day in our brains a lot when the snow flies.

Hardly a back-breaking day of birding