Volume 13, Issue 44 ~ November 3 - November 9, 2005
Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Autumnal Responsibilities

I’d like to be squirreling away game, but here I am feathering the nest Grandpop, the trees are making the wind blow.

—Grumpy, aka Mackenzie Noelle Boughey

From the mouths of babes.

Grumpy won’t be four until late next month. Yet while we were outside the house on the shores of Stoney Creek up here in north county collecting black walnuts for the squirrels over the winter, she became aware of the intricacies of weather.

The wind was brisk from the east, and the trees were bending, sending down a shower of leaves as well as enough hard-shell fruit from the old walnut tree that I looked more above than down for nuts. A big black walnut from nearly 100 feet above can sting a little girl.

Of course Grumpy was wrong; it’s the other way around: The wind makes the trees dance. But her misunderstanding can be overlooked seeing that back in the days before the first serious climatologists, the thinking was akin to hers. As for the treeless prairies, it was believed that trees from afar had sent the winds.

Feeling Winter

But Grumpy was aware of something that can’t be argued. The obvious abundance of nuts this fall bodes well for squirrels that frequent the Burton lawn. Since I took up residence at Riviera Beach in the early 1970s, I’ve not seen nearly so many walnuts from the old tree. The younger tree, an offspring of the older one and planted 30 years ago, is absolutely loaded with ’em.

But is that good? While it’s promising for the bushytails, I ponder what it means for the Burtons. Country folklore has it that Mother Nature’s way of preparing wildlife for a tough winter ahead is to provide it with a bounty of mast.

So wildlife enjoys its mast with no concerns about the rigors of winter, and the fat put on will help carry them over the cold months. But inside the Burton house, though we eat well, we have to stay reasonably warm and heating oil prices are at record levels.

This is the time to join the chase for fish and game, but here I am barefoot in the house on a chilly evening preparing to inspect areas near doors and windows. My bare feet can feel drafts, and drafts need to be eliminated. My frugal New England heritage and my conscience insist I do whatever possible to conserve oil.

The Provisioning Instinct

Yet I am torn. I think of my outdoor companions afield and of the words of noted angler Roderick Haig-Brown:

Fall fishing is a revival after the quieter times of summer. Shadows are longer … the fish more active and there is a touch of urgency about it all, a feeling that it cannot last very long, so one had better get out. Fall is almost everywhere a prime fishing time.

Everywhere includes the Chesapeake, where the past six or seven years huge sea-run rockfish have moved in to fatten up for winter. We can tell they’re new arrivals; they carry in their gills sea lice that will soon disappear because of the Chesapeake’s lower salinity.

Reports of sea lice-bearing fish are skimpy thus far, but earlier this week, several huge fish were caught near Hooper Island Light.

Everything in ’05 is late, which prompts the question, will winter be late? I’ve examined caterpillars in hopes of a clue, but the black bands are no wider than the tan. The catbirds stayed weeks later than usual; an early departure, country lore has it, means a bad winter.

Country weather-wisdom has it that if tree and grapevine leaves do not fall before St. Martin’s Day, Nov. 11, a cold winter is due. Half the leaves have fallen. It’s also said if the beechnut is dry on All Saint’s Day, Nov. 1, a severe winter will follow. When I checked this morning, the beechnuts were dry as the Sahara.

Turkey Hunting I Would Go

As I write on November 1, I weigh the probability of yielding to temptation and heading west to Garrett County, where a short-lived winter struck last week. Oscar Wilde made sense when he said the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. I want a wild turkey for Thanksgiving.

Maryland’s wild turkey season opened Saturday and closes this Saturday. Unlike the statewide and much longer spring season, fall season is open only in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties

Traditionally, turkey hunting came in Fall, a long season timed for Thanksgiving. As wild turkey stocks began to tumble due to cutting and clearing, Maryland, like many other states, supplemented stocks with birds from the hatchery. But hatchery-reared birds were dumb from too much association with people.

In fall turkey hunting, the standard procedure is to flush a flock of these birds, then try to pick one off as they regroup, often times calling them to attract one within shotgun range. And in the fall hunts, either Tom (distinguished by a beard) or beardless hen turkey is allowed.

As truly wild turkey stocks dropped, a moratorium was declared on hunting. It was about the same time that many states, Maryland among them, showed an interest in spring turkey hunting. In the spring, turkey hunting is much more challenging and restricted to Toms.

Spring is mating season, the time when, shall we say, romantically inclined Toms seek hens, usually by calling them to join the harem. Enter the hunter, who tries to call the wise Tom within range. Often it takes darned good calling to do this.

A wild gobbler is wary and wise; one in the bag is a trophy indeed, as well as a fine meal. Its trophy merits are decided on length of beard and spurs along with weight. Twenty-pounders are fine fowl.

About 28 years ago, Maryland Department of Natural Resources was attempting to trap wild turkeys from Western Maryland to release them in other counties in an effort to build stocks. But Western Marylanders didn’t want their wild birds sent to other counties, and a deadlock ensued. I was a member of the State Wild Turkey Committee then, and we made a deal. If Western Marylanders allowed us to trap 25 turkeys from each county for release elsewhere, we’d bring back a brief fall hunt.

We keyed on Calvert County as the recipient of the trapped birds, and in five years wild turkeys were flourishing there. Western Maryland populations were not harmed, so the hatchery was shut down.

The rest is a remarkable success story. We now have wild turkeys and turkey hunting in all counties, maybe even a few to hunt within Baltimore City limits. When pressed, Mother Nature shepherds her resources.

Now if she can only take care of the Burtons in the upcoming winter, everything will be hunky-dory.

Enough said...

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