Wednesday, November 26, 2014

ACE Basin and Ducks Unlimited CEO host NAWCA Partners

Gadwall lift off from an impoundment at Bear Island WMA
DU guests got a driving tour of rice trunks and dikes

The conservation calendar has been full this fall with events relating to the 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin, where groups like DU and private landowners placed conservation easements on properties, leading to landscape-scale protection. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act or NAWCA is a federal program that provides funding to make improvements to protected properties, and Bennett’s Point and Bear Island hosted dignitaries to salute completed projects in the Lowcountry.
The lunchtime meal on Friday November 21 at Bennetts Point was held at the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Field Station. Dale Hall is the Chief Executive Officer for Ducks Unlimited based in Memphis, Tennessee and he made remarks at the NERR luncheon and then was given a special tour of Bear Island WMA by Dean Harrigal from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The tour included viewing of  NAWCA projects with lots of visiting migratory waterfowl flying overhead.
Dale Hall, CEO of Ducks Unlimited, at ACE Basin NERR
“The first Ducks Unlimited easement in the ACE Basin was at Mary’s Island, which is now part of the Donnelley WMA,” said Hall. “The wintering grounds here in South Carolina are extremely important to migratory waterfowl who choose to overwinter here. Why? Because the ducks need food sources to get the protein and fat that are necessary to sustain them when they return to the northern nesting grounds. Ducks returning in good shape have better eggshell development which is one positive step towards future waterfowl production.”

At Bennetts Point, Mark Robertson from The Nature Conservancy shared that he sees a strong conservation ethic in South Carolina that is unique. Citing a stat that South Carolina is third in the number of total wetlands behind Louisiana and Florida, he challenged attendees to be mindful that wetlands can be lost where conservation is not present. Robertson also cited that S.C. ranks fifth in states with the least wetlands loss overall.

To view this entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Report - 11/25/2014

Fishing Report for the Coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina:

To view past Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Reports click here.

To view a past blog entry about surf fishing click here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

2014 Thanksgiving Harvest Photos

Timmy Benton uses a combine to gather corn
Hunter Benton cutting sorghum
Lowcountry Outdoors is all about our rural and agricultural heritage that helped to define generations of outdoorsmen. In 2014 in particular we are happy for the fall harvest of crops that help to sustain the farming families of the Lowcountry. Whether peanuts, cotton, soybeans, hay or corn crops the time to harvest what was sown is upon us and another growing season awaits in the Spring of 2015.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

To view past blog entries about Thanksgiving click on Camp Chef - Quail Season Opening Day - Mixed Bag - Lady Hunter tags 10-point buck - 2009 Driven Deer Hunt - 2012 Driven Deer Hunt

Cows graze during sunset

Hay Baler producing another perfect roll

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 S.C. Governor's Cup Photo Essay

Micheal Krivohlavek shows that the Bite was ON

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources runs the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series. A total of five offshore fishing tournaments take place during the summer up and down the S.C. coast and a Series winner is determined using a points system for billfish releases. Practicing billfish conservation while promoting the sport of bluewater fishing is the top priority for these anglers.

From the November issue of All At Sea magazine
Participating in each series event is not required but it helps to build points and Georgetown-based Rascal did just that. They fished in all five events and though they did not win a single event, their fishing luck was very consistent. Owner Norman Pulliam of Spartanburg and co-owner Foster McKissick of Greenville keep a veteran crew and they claimed the overall title of Best Billfish Boat for 2014.

Rascal Crew at Edisto Tourney Awards
Mark Rogers is the captain on Rascal and he helped guide them to releasing four blue marlin and seven sailfish during the Series. Rascal also owns the S.C. state record for a blue marlin they landed back in 2005. Though the tournament series ended in late July the official awards ceremony takes place in October. The 2015 competition begins next May and will mark the 27th anniversary of S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series. 

To view this article in the magazine click on All At Sea.

To view past blog entries about the S.C. Gov. Cup click 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009.

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 Bald Head Island - Surf Fishing

Fresh caught red drum out the N.C. surf zone

The southeast coast of Brunswick County, North Carolina includes several barrier islands such as Topsail Island, Holden Beach and Oak Island. But anglers can stack the deck in their favor by heading to Bald Head Island since it juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing further out means a greater variety of species can be encountered like flounder, jacks and mackerel.
There are several unique factors in play at Bald Head Island besides the logistics of a ferry ride from Southport. Only golf carts are allowed on the island, and they have a rental fleet of carts ready to go. The island is in the shape of a triangle and is uniquely situated with its main beachfront facing south. The West beach faces the Cape Fear River and the East beach extends out into the Frying Pan Shoals.
It takes teamwork to play and land larger red drum in the surf
This triangular formation means that no matter which direction the sea island breezes are bowing there will always be a protected section of beach to fish from. The shoals at the point where East Beach meets South Beach offer rough water fishing for bluefish that blitz through the surf zone during their annual October bluefish bonanza tournament.
The West beach tempts anglers to cast towards the Cape Fear River and fish for red drum along the drop offs that are a characteristic of this section of beach. A valid N.C. fishing license and some cut bait are part of the surf fishing essentials along with surf spikes and a tackle box filled with lead sinkers and fishing hooks. Slot limits apply for red drum and it’s easy to practice catch and release after skidding a bronzy redfish up onto the beach. 

To view this feature article click on All At Sea magazine.

To view past blog entries about Bald Head Island click here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 Gamekeepers / Fall - The Duck Truck Stop

Rice and Ducks!
Waterfowl managers already know that it takes a trial and error approach to figure out what works best by trying different plantings in their area. Much the same way that Mossy Oak Gamekeepers figure out which clover grows well in the low areas, and what fire breaks are the most valuable for starting back burns. It can take the same system of testing over time to identify the formula that best brings ducks to your waterfowl plot.

2014 Fall edition
Rice and Conservation

Hunting over large quantities of rice is becoming a scarce proposition bur rice production still offers one of the best ways to concentrate waterfowl. For those who produce rice in small plots for waterfowl, they must be careful not to flood too early before opening day, since the ducks may show up in droves. This can be the equivalent of a fireworks display for managers, with the influx of ducks a spectacular sight, but they can also eat out the rice in a hurry and then be gone for good.
Large rice production areas still exist in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas, and in California’s Central Valley. These large areas are part of the USA Rice Federation and in February of 2013 they formed a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to raise awareness about the relationship between rice production and waterfowl. These working rice lands represent a significant portion of the areas where waterfowl overwinter each year.
During my visit in October of 2013 to Southwest Louisiana I was able to witness one of the large rice operations at Grosse Savanne. Field Operations Manager Doug Miller represents DU on the  Rice Stewardship Partnership, and has been fine-tuning the Grosse Savanne rice fields for the past twelve years. Their 2000-acres of rice production annually attracts wads of waterfowl and speckle belly geese too, and during my visit it was thousands of migratory blue-winged teal that were on site for a visit during their southward migration.
Lots of info on page 30
Coastal Plain Game Plan

Plantation manager Tadpole Baldwin is native to Colleton County in South Carolina, and his family has a specific tradition of managing for waterfowl. The 2014 menu for migratory ducks at the private plantation he oversees will be a mix of approximately 600-acres of corn and 2500-acres of moist soil management. Whereas one may not manipulate any corn crop and remain legal for hunting waterfowl, the mowing and burning of natural vegetation is considered a common management practice and that area remains legal to hunt.
“The corn crop isn’t flooded using the Edisto River until just days before the waterfowl season comes in,” says Baldwin. “Nature will then take its course over time and degrade the stalks to where the corn is either blown down to where the ducks are, or perhaps the ears will simply sag enough to where they can stretch out and reach it.”
While the mere sight of flooded corn is likely to signal waterfowl to drop in, this coastal area has unique food sources that may have an even more powerful affect. “We’ll have about 1000-acres of Redroot flat sedge that is a natural food source for dabbling ducks. The Redroot prefers the areas that have peat in the soil complex, and the fall panicum grasses do better where we find mud and silt from the river.” 

To view past blog entries from Mossy Oak GameKeepers Magazine click on Spring 2014 - Summer 2014 - Winter 2013

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2014 Duck Season Opening Day is Nov. 22

A waterfowler wades out to pass shoot wood ducks at dawn

Does the thought of early rising for waterfowl season make for a better state of mind? You bet. The sunrise scenery around the waterfowling areas of the Lowcountry are hard to beat. Cold fingers look to be in the forecast for opening day, but duck hunters wouldn’t have it any other way. With record duck populations this year and cold winter air already affecting the northern states, this could be a memorable season for Lowcountry waterfowlers.
Of course not everyone is willing to forego extra hours of sleep time and head out into the cold in hopes of merely glimpsing some ducks. One local recently told me that the best part about duck hunting season is the annual Ducks Unlimited banquet, and not the hunting at all. Well everyone has an opinion about duck season, but duck hunters just always seem to be avid about their time spent in the outdoors.
Welcoming Paul Schmidt to the Lowcountry on Nov. 2
According to the 2014 Waterfowl Breeding Survey duck numbers surged upward to the tune of an 8-percent increase over the past year. This continues a three-year trend where ample rainfall at the breeding grounds have played a positive role for population increases. This is the 60th year of the survey that is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Paul Schmidt is the Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited and he was in the Lowcountry on November 2 for the 25th anniversary of the ACE Basin. “We are encouraged by the population trends of several duck species, especially American wigeon, which have come back strong during the past two years,” said Schmidt. “Particularly encouraging is the entire suite of birds that are showing good signs due to available wetlands and the upland habitat to rear their young.”

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about opening day hunts click on 2012 Dove Season - 2011 Teal Season - 2011 Goose season - 2012 Teal Season - 2014 Goose season

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 Edisto Island Open Land Trust - Middleton Plantation

Oak Avenue leading to waterfront home at Middleton Plantation
Host Townsend Clarkson, Sponsor Calvert Huffines
with Lolla Lee and Se. Chip Campsen on Store Creek
The 2014 annual meeting and oyster roast of the Edisto Island Open Land Trust was held overlooking Store Creek at Middleton Plantation on November 16. It was just last December 2013 when owners Townsend and Stephanie Clarkson decided to place 9.15-acres at Middleton Plantation under conservation easement with EIOLT. This includes the main house, guest house and uplands that front Store Creek along with some salt marsh and a plethora of grand live oaks that add a stunning intangible to the grounds. Light rain in the morning gave way to dry skies and near perfect oyster roast weather, save the armada of gnats that decided to crash the proceedings. But with over 50-percent of Edisto Island now protected by EIOLT the entire ecosystem must be relished, and the patrons at the 2014 annual meeting didn't seem to mind since they stayed late in the day enjoying outdoors fellowship.

Protection Map from EIOLT
Bobo Lee, Karen Belser and EIOLT Director John Girault
EIOLT just announced a new easement in November 2014 on a portion of Sunny Side Plantation. Landowner Karen Belser of Columbia chose to protect 122.7-acres that includes maritime forest, agricultural fields and saltwater buffer along Store Creek. This jigsaw piece falls together with other protected properties at Sunny Side to complete a patchwork of conservation that everyone can admire. EIOLT John Girault presented Karen Belser with special recognition at the oyster roast for her conservation efforts. After business, event sponsor The Huffines Company made sure that the band played on, and the brew kept flowing, for the members of the land trust that were keen to shuck some more oysters.

To view a past blog entries about EIOLT click 2013 Oyster Roast - 2012 ACE Basin Mtg. - 2009 Spring Birding - 2014 Spring Birding.

To view a past blog on conservation click on 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

ACE Basin now home to Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers

ACE Basin pine savannah suitable for Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers

There is good news on many fronts for the ACE Basin. The natural resources running along and in between the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers consist of a large ecosystem that is able to sustain both plant and wildlife diversity. New to the mix this month is the red-cockaded woodpecker, brought in to Colleton County by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
RCW image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife
The November 2 celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin brought the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Mr. Robert Bonnie to Nemours, along with several other dignitaries from Ducks Unlimited and other local conservation groups. Dr. Ernie Wiggers is the CEO of the Nemours Wildlife Foundation and he addressed the crowd saying that red-cockaded woodpeckers are coming to private lands in the ACE Basin. These birds will join a distinguished flock that includes visiting Whooping cranes and secretive black rails.
Celebrating 25 Years in 2014!
It was back in the Spring 2008 ACE Basin newsletter when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that there was potential to introduce the red-cockaded woodpeckers onto suitable private properties. I attended a landowner meeting at Chehaw Combahee Plantation a year earlier for those interested in learning about the Safe Harbor program that the federal government enacted to help landowners to steward the red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW's) that are on the federal endangered species list.
RCW nesting tree from Jasper County
During a media interview at the Nemours celebration I sat down with Undersecretary Bonnie to discuss the RCW efforts. “This is another project where the ACE Basin will have influence on others far past the South Carolina border,” said Bonnie. “Demand for Red-cockaded woodpecker restoration has exceeded the supply of available birds. The ACE Basin will receive RCW’s that come from the Francis Marion National Forest, which has always been an RCW stronghold. Hurricane Hugo flattened many RCW trees there but this actually accelerated the RCW restoration program because artificial nesting cavity experiments in the aftermath proved very successful." A total of 20 red-cockaded woodpeckers, or ten pairs, were introduced into Colleton County on November 6, 2014.

To read this entire feature article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view a video click on red-cockaded woodpecker.

To view the latest Birding Journal Observations click Sept. / Oct. 2014


Monday, November 10, 2014

Waterfowl Populations and Weather Patterns Trending for Success

An old cork decoy tells a story of waterfowling heritage

The wetlands of South Carolina continue to offer refuge for visiting waterfowl just as they have done for centuries, and for a certain flock of wingshooters nothing beats duck hunting. Pre-dawn rituals and post-hunt fellowship are the kind of things that foment family relations and cement friendships well past hunting seasons. It all comes together in a few moments for sporting types when they hear the buzzing sound of whistling wings dropping out of the sky and into the decoys.
Seasoned waterfowlers know and understand that the duck season has already commenced from Canada into the Northeast and the Midwest. Migratory waterfowl see hunting pressure in Canada in September and then they experience a succession of hunting season dates across individual states. The South Carolina duck season will begin on November 22 and run for a week of holiday hunts during Thanksgiving.
The first flight of migratory ducks made it to the Lowcountry in late September and early October when blue-winged teal arrived on a cool front. These ducks are among the earliest to migrate but other ducks are steadily arriving every day, and they will be looking for a place to feed and rest since they are effectively ahead of the cascading duck season hunt dates.

These early birds are not the main body of migrators that will remain ensconced in the northern states until they become iced over and so inhospitable that they have no choice but to move on. Rather, our November ducks are a piecemeal tapestry of waterfowl that can provide some of the surest duck hunts of the entire season. Many species of ducks are included in the mix including pintails, redheads and black ducks.

A couple of key factors are in play in the Lowcountry, and specifically the formation and 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin which contributes to the stabilization of wetlands habitat. Ducks Unlimited is a national leader in wetlands conservation and in 2014 they named the ACE Basin as the #13 Great Places to Hunt Waterfowl, citing a mixture of freshwater and brackish marshes. They also cite both private historic rice plantations and public state management areas contributing to one of the most important areas in the south Atlantic Flyway.

To view the entire feature article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

To view past blog entries from November waterfowl reports click 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 SCI Wounded Warrior deer hunt

Clarendon Plantation guide Shawn Moss
with Disabled hunter Fred Specht and his 8-point

Deer hunting season fervor reaches new heights in October with the arrival of cooler weather and the rut. It’s no coincidence that the annual Wounded Warrior and Wheelchair Deer Hunt is scheduled during this time of peak whitetail activity so that the participants have the best chance for success. One U.S. serviceman shot an 8-point buck during his first ever deer hunt, while a total of sixty hunters were able to spend time among the bountiful natural resources found in the ACE Basin.
Warriors sign in for a hunting guide and NRA gift bag
The hunt schedule began with a patriotic flag-waving parade for a convoy of wounded warriors down the oak avenue at Nemours Plantation at 11 a.m. on Monday, October 27. The Nemours property is home to a Wildlife Foundation whose mission includes hosting this special deer hunt, acting as the hub before a network of ACE Basin properties serve as the spokes where the invited guests can go hunting. A catered lunch and pairing each hunter with a local hunting guide are the next order of business.
Eric Forgacs and his First Ever 8-point buck
Several speakers followed the invocation but hunt founder Mark Peterson and wife Holly were singled out for special recognition. Peterson is a member of the Lowcountry Chapter of Safari Club International (SCI) and has been the driving force behind the hunt during its entire ten-year tenure. Having been involved with the hunt as a guide, a volunteer and a member of the media I can share that Peterson has been hands on with every facet of the event.
If ice and soda were lacking for meal time, it was Peterson out soliciting grocery stores and business owners to pitch in. Helping our wounded warriors during their time of recuperation is a worthy cause, and others are quick to pitch in, but it is Peterson who raised awareness whenever and wherever it was required. Mark and Holly were each presented a plaque from SCI and also a framed photo collage covering the history of the event.
Kay Merrill and Ernie Wiggers from Nemours Plantation
A Marine color guard from Parris Island presented the flags while a Marine quintet played the national anthem, and everyone was ready to get in a deer stand early on that Monday afternoon. In the end there was 24 deer and 2 hogs harvested by the hunters, but they each were a part of the 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin as they traveled to private lands to hunt. One of the hallmarks of this event each year is the generosity of the plantations to allow these hunters access to properties that are teeming with wildlife.

To view the entire article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about the SCI Wounded Warrior deer hunt click on year: 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009.

Monday, November 3, 2014

2014 Polo For The Point

Polo players jockey for position at a fast pace
Barry Limehouse uncorks a shot on goal 
The sixth annual fundraiser for the Colleton Center in Walterboro was held under clear sunny skies and brisk temperatures on November 2. Event host Buck Limehouse handles the announcer duties each year as the chukkas are played to the delight to the crowd. A strong attendance had Jean Harrigal guessing that this was the best crowd to date, and that the event is showing signs of growth. The feature match saw The Colletonian Team taking on the Steadman Agency Team in a spirited competition that kept patrons in attendance until 6 p.m., and then some stayed on for a pig pickin' and social hour up at the horse barn. Competitions for best hospitality tent and ladies hat makes it fun for everyone at this family friendly event.

To view past blog entries for Polo for the Point click 2013 or 2012 or 2011 or2009.

The Colletonian Newspaper Team wore PINK

Bramblet Bradham is the whole hog honcho 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Birding Journal Observations - September / October 2014

Skimmers hunkered down during a cold front
The Ying and Yang of the modern rollercoaster weather cycle continued in the fall of 2014. While September was a record-setting month for precipitation, October turned it right around and barely rained at all with warm temps right up until Halloween. Taken as a whole the fall migration activity seemed fairly light, although the majority of foliage in the Lowcountry is still green. The crux of avian activity seemed to be right at the start of October as my ruby-throated humming birds left on October 1, and flocks of blue-winged teal were pitching in to visit on the 4th. The first American redstart sighting was September 12 and I saw a male hooded warbler on October 5.

Other bird sightings include towhee, cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, tufted titmouse, male summer tanager, Carolina wren, ruby-throated hummingbird, red-bellied woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, female American Redstart, pileated woodpecker, blue grey gnatcatcher, mockingbird, Male hooded warbler, blue jay, kestrel, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Canada goose, dove, great blue heron, great white egret and kingfisher.

To view the most recent Birding Journal Observations from July / August 2014 click here.

To view past Birding Journal Observations for Sept / Oct. click 2013 or 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.