Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Toast to 2014

2014 Quail hunt at Spring Bank Plantation at Barnsley Gardens
Cheers to 2014, which was year number six for the blog about my affinity for the Lowcountry Outdoors. I am thankful for the print publications which carry my byline regarding everything from saltwater fishing to landowner habitat management. Plus my writings include a healthy dose of wildlife observations and my conclusions from more than four decades spent in the Lowcountry.

It's grand that an additional 30 blog followers joined the list of 219 folks who like to check in from time to time on my work, and I'm honored they add me to their favorite's list. Each one gives me some form of motivation to continue my photography and outdoors reporting for those that see hunting and fishing as time-honored traditions and a part of our outdoor heritage and worthy of reflection. My popular Big Buck series continues to look for unique bucks and the stories behind them, and my dedicated Governor's Cup coverage will continues as well.

I look forward to working hard in 2015 to experience more outdoor outings and to translate those blessings into blog entries and sporting tales so that others can share in it if they so choose. Safety and good health are a big part of the outdoors equation, so live well and take care so that everyone can plan more outdoor adventures in 2015 and well beyond.

In 2014, I was humbled to accept the NBCI Firebird Award for my work regarding bobwhite quail.

To view past blog entries from my New Year's Eve Toast click 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Zippo Outdoors Refillable Hand Warmers

Camo Zippo Refillable Hand Warmer
The longer you stay outside, the more fun you have. Next time, take a Zippo Hand Warmer along to the campsite, stadium or deer stand. The Zippo hand warmer provides up to 12 hours of gentle, consistent, odorless heat. They are refillable with Zippo Premium Lighter Fluid, so they don’t end up in landfills. Each Hand Warmer features all metal construction and comes with a fleece warming bag, so the heat is always gentle on your skin. The Zippo Hand Warmer was awarded the Seal of Approval by the North American Hunting Club and the camo option keeps hunters stealthy while they pursue wild game. 

Light It Up!
Zippo Hand Warmer Specs
Height: 5.3″ (13.462cm)
Width: 2″ (5.08cm)
Depth: .4″ (1.016cm)

Weight: .01lbs (.004 Kg)

To view the entire catalog from Zippo Outdoors click here.

To view past blog entries about outdoor gear click here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Plowing Firebreaks and Planning for Prescribed Fire

A fireplow implement in use behind a farm tractor

With temperatures up and down regularly thus far this winter, it’s hard to forecast when it will be best to set prescribed fires in the woodlands. However, winter is still the correct time to use controlled burning, so land managers should go ahead and get ready. Plowing firebreaks and setting up burn plans should be coming to mind anytime after the holiday season.

Firebreaks are essential to establish before prescribed fire plans can be executed. Plowing firebreaks and the use of prescribed fire will keep woodlands not only healthy, but in a state that provides ease of use in future months. If young pine trees are at risk of damage next to a controlled burn area, simply double the width of the firebreak on that boundary. If you choose not to burn in hardwoods, then plow a firebreak in order to exclude fire from that area.   

Check the firebreaks the day before any burning for accumulation of excess leaves or pine needles that may need to be cleared. Having people on hand to help set the controlled fire and then to monitor the burn is essential. Cell phones make it easy to keep in communication on each side of the controlled burn area in order to watch for hot spots or unpredictable fire behavior.
Lastly, consider having others on site to help provide education to them about how to use prescribed fire and why it is a healthy tool for ecosystem management. I can remember my uncle taking me down to a property on the Combahee River years ago where he set fire with a drip torch, while I was directed to use a flapper to guard the fire line. That burn went like clockwork and like so many young folks before me, I was purposefully nudged towards becoming a future prescribed fire manager.

To view this feature story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Monday, December 22, 2014

S.C. Wildlife Federation - 2015 Legislative Wish List

SCWF Press Release from December 12, 2014:
Restrictor Plates keeps squirrels from changing the size
of the opening that is custom fit for bluebirds
2015 will be one of the most pivotal years for conservation for the South Carolina Wildlife Federation in it's 84-year history.  A new legislature will convene in January, and now is the time for all of us to prepare.
First, 2015 will be a critical year for survival of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. Since its funding began in 2004, over 240,000 acres have been set aside for recreation and protection through parks, preserves and private property conservation easements – all for an amazing $250 per acre average cost. This year is critical for SCWF supporters to make a strong showing  at the State House and around the state as we do everything in our power to make sure this program, that has worked so well, continues. The Bank overall enjoys broad support in the House and Senate, but there are a few powerful forces that use any argument imaginable to end the Bank. They will be back at it this year, no doubt.
Second, we must force action to prevent excessive surface water withdrawals from our threatened rivers and creeks to avoid doom for wildlife and fish and to protect recreational pursuits on our waterways.  Family farmers are among our most devoted conservationists. It is heartening to know that many of them realize that limitless withdrawals of water by a few is shortsighted and a policy that can only lead to crisis.
Third, you may have heard about the Obama Administration’s decision to open up the South  Atlantic to oil and gas exploration which could lead to massive development offshore and onshore along the SC coast.  If these plans become reality, the face of our beloved pristine beaches and marshes will be altered forever.  Along with allies in other southern states, we must work tirelessly to prevent these plans from becoming reality and threatening both our estuaries and our economy.
All three of these matters have personal meaning to me. Seeing the bountiful and beautiful wildlife on my first trip to Bulls Bay back in the seventies convinced me programs like the Conservation Bank are needed to preserve our natural heritage. Spending time in recent years visiting friends in the 20 or so counties that the Edisto River winds through makes me appreciate the vital role a  river can play in smaller communities.  
There will also be a lengthy list of legislative proposals which impact game and fish management, so we will be coordinating with legislators, SC Department of Natural Resources and other conservation groups to protect resources on many fronts. Please let us know if you have questions or suggestions.  Many thanks for your support.
Ben Gregg
Executive Director

Sunday, December 21, 2014

South Carolina Earns Migratory Bird Joint Venture Awards

Swallow-Tailed Kite awards were given out to the Winners
Partners of the South Atlantic Migratory Bird Initiative (SAMBI) in South Carolina were recognized in November. That meeting to celebrate NAWCA was a part of the ACE Basin 25th Anniversary and was held at the ACE Basin NERR. The USFWS recognized several leaders for the work that their groups had completed regarding conservation of wetlands in South Carolina. Those groups included Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon and SCDNR.

Of course money from the federal government through the SAMBI gets the conservation choo choo train rolling and it further gathers steam by enlisting matching funds from willing partners. Those figures include $79 million from the federal government, that later became more than $365 million when leveraging the contributions of more than 450 partners. These figures have protected 378,000-acres in South Carolina, and here's an example of the various projects.

DU, Audubon, TNC and SCDNR were recognized
In the ACE Basin this equals 200,000-acres, of which about two-thirds are privately owned. There are also 135,000-acres protected in the South Lowcountry (SoLo) Focus Area. About 56,000-acres in the Winyah Bay area has been protected thus far, and more is expected. Finally, the 16,000-acre Francis Beidler Forest and its hardwood bottoms is protected and carries the added distinction of being one of only twenty-three Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance in the United States. Bravo!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dove and Quail Hunts Headline Small Game Season

Quail over Doves after a day of hunting

The last two weeks of December is the final stretch run for deer hunters, but for many woodsmen their outdoors attention has already turned away from white-tailed deer and towards bird hunting. Quail season starts at Thanksgiving each year and presently coincides with the third and final section of dove season, giving wingshooters plenty of game. Whether you use a 20-gauge double gun or an automatic 12-gauge, it’s time to locate your shotgun shells and knock the proverbial rust off of your aim.
The third and final section of dove season runs from December 13 to January 15, and late season doves usually offer a more challenging target. That’s because winter doves are more likely to be migratory birds that have been shot at in other locales or states as they move South. These doves might be a bit larger in size and hardier too, but they also have enough sense to stay high and fly fast in order to avoid falling into the harvest plans of so many hunters.
Good Dove Shooting Knowledge Right Here
Dove season reports were mixed in the early season with some dove fields producing plenty of limits, or 15 doves per day per gun, while other fields saw a decline in traditional dove numbers. The Thanksgiving dove season benefited from colder weather and reports seemed to surge, and while not everyone was scoring a full limit, there was lots of shooting and opportunity that made many hunts a success.

Of course dove fields attract other wildlife too, and not all of it is legal to hunt. Hawks, blackbirds, bluebirds and more can set up shop in a dove field, and their aerial displays and bird calls give everyone a greater appreciation for all creatures. One gamebird that may show up where dove field management is practiced is the bobwhite quail. Once very common along the hedgerows and field borders of the Lowcountry, quail are quietly making a bit of a comeback in areas where they occurred historically.

If your hunting luck is running really strong, hunting both doves and quail during the same day is indeed a possibility. It takes some imagination to make this sporting wish a reality, but I’d suggest trying for quail in the morning when the outside air is at its coolest. Then set up in a dove field for the afternoon, sitting in either sun or shade depending on the weather, while waiting on a shooting opportunity. Even if this rare sporting combo produces just a few birds of each species in your bag, it’s pairing that I think can become sustainable in the future.

To read this feature article in the newspaper click Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about late season doves hunts click here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Scout Boats Celebrates 25th Anniversary in Charleston Harbor

Scout signage at the Chas. Harbor Marina

Scout Boats based in Summerville, South Carolina weathered the economic recession that blew winds of change into the boat manufacturing business. Scout is gathering a head of steam in 2014, celebrating 25 years of excellence by announcing a facility expansion and adding 300 new jobs. On September 24 three new boat models were available for inspection on nearby Charleston Harbor.
Optional Fishing Console is the Bomb!
With the air temperature hanging in the low 60’s and a northerly wind of 20-knots, the conditions on the water were sporty. The three Scout boats we rode in were the 255 LXF, the 275 Dorado and the 300 LXF and they each provided a dry ride. The larger the boat the more stable the ride in choppy seas but the 27-footer had noticeably more bounce than the other two models.
Dotson Guice with Scout told me that the 255 LXF is a luxury fishing boat that replaced a similar 24-foot model. I saw that it had two bench seats in the bow equipped with forward-facing backrests that are removable. Amenity choices include a T-top with tempered glass enclosure, fusion stereo with ipod and USB jacks, in-floor fish box and fiberglass leaning post. A special silver boat hull color is available for the 255LXG in honor of the company’s anniversary.
Neat fold out table stows snug against the bow
The 275 Dorado is a family friendly boat that can be used for fishing too. The bow offers two comfortable bench seats and a unique entertaining table that folds down out of the way. A couple of stereo speakers and an anchor box finish making the Dorado bow a very usable space. Aft has a fold down bench seat with twin 25-gallon storage wells in the back corners. The in-floor fish box and flush-mounted rod holders complete the transom. Scout’s George Douglas sat behind the dual console of the 275 Dorado and shared that the twin Yamaha 200’s can simply cruise along when fishing is not part of the plan. 
How about a cool wrap on a new Scout boat!
The 300 LXF is a deep-V sportfishing model that debuted at the Miami Boat Show in February. Scout’s Josh Slayton pushed the twin Yamaha 300’s forward until we were screaming across the frothy water at 57 miles per hour. Scout’s Nu-V3 high performance hull design performed remarkably well here, and we were quickly comparing notes about how this boat could deliver you to the fishing grounds on demand.

To read this magazine feature article in its entirety click on All At Sea.
To view past blog entries involving Scout click 2010 ReelN4Kids - 2010 Red Trout Celebrity Tourney - 2013 CCA State Convention - 2013 Lowcountry Tarpon Tourney.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Whooping Cranes Follow Ultralight Into Georgia

Whooping Cranes Follow Ultralight Aircraft

USFWS Press Release : Seven whooping cranes following pilots in two ultralight aircraft lifted off from Pike County, Alabama on December 9 and flew 117-miles before landing in Decatur County, Georgia.

It sounds very simple, but in reality is amazingly difficult.  Why?  Well it seems cranes just have minds of their own.  And if it’s cold, or the wind isn't right, they don’t just automatically follow these brave pilots dressed up like whooping cranes flying ultralight aircraft.  It’s like trying to herd cats.

“This was a particularly wild morning,” said Heather Ray, outreach specialist. “It was kind of exciting for a while there with both ultralights circling the field for the cranes to follow. But it all worked out thanks to good planning by our pilots and thankfully cooperative whooping cranes.”

The cranes are part of a 14-year effort to reestablish an eastern migratory whooping population to safeguard the species survival. The cranes and planes and entourage have been in the air or on the road for 61 days since departing from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area on October 10. 2014.

When they reach St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Florida, these seven cranes will be joining 97 whooping cranes in the eastern population with 54 males and 43 females. The Eastern Flock's estimated distribution as of December 4, 2014, included 40 whooping cranes in Indiana, 10 in Illinois, 8 in Kentucky, 6 in Tennessee, 11 in Alabama, 3 in Georgia and 6 in Florida. There are always some whooping cranes unaccounted for at times when they fly from place to place, like when two whooping cranes unexpectedly visited the ACE Basin in 2013. For more info click on International Crane Foundation.

This is the 14th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperiled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range.

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the whooping crane observation webpage.
Whooping Cranes and Ultralight / Photos courtesy USFWS
To view past blog entries about Endangered Species click on Red Cockaded Woodpecker - Red Knot

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Nemours Wildlife Foundation Welcomes Woodpeckers

USFWS and SCDNR biologists after an RCW release 

The ACE Basin is now home to four more federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. They were released into a 10,000-acre tract of land along the Beaufort County side of the Combahee River. The Nemours Wildlife Foundation took considerable lengths to manage the upland pine habitat these woodpeckers require, working hand in hand with certified biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, who approved the translocation of these woodpeckers from Myrtle Beach.
Biologists are watchful for woodpeckers in the foggy dawn
Bo knows how to release an RCW
The beach birds are longtime residents of Horry County, but their habitat is largely fragmented there due to development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) identified this group of three red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW’s) as being in need of transfer into an area that has landscape-scale conservation efforts underway. While the Francis Marion National Forest (FMNF) may have been closer than the ACE Basin, that forest is already an RCW stronghold.
The 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin in early November ushered in a new milestone when a large group of RCW’s were translocated from FMNF into Colleton County. This follow-up effort also involves one RCW that came from FMNF to join the three Myrtle Beach birds in hopes of introducing two breeding pairs at Nemours. The three beach birds consisted of one breeding pair and one male that is a former offspring now playing a helper role in their family unit.
Arriving at Nemours at 6 a.m. on December 4, I joined a cadre of wildlife biologists including Ernie Wiggers, CEO at Nemours Wildlife Foundation. These RCW experts represented private consulting firms, USFWS and the South Carolina DNR and they held a pre-dawn question and answer period for some local birders who were also in attendance. Many of the RCW experts had decades of experience and knowledge about life history of the red-cockaded woodpeckers began to flow, much like the pine sap that oozes from an RCW nesting tree.

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

To view past blog entries click on Red Knot - Mottled Duck - Birding Journal Observations.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Red Knot Shorebird now protected under Endangered Species Act

Friday, December 5, 2014

ACE Basin visit by USDA Under Secretary Bonnie

Robert Bonnie and Tommy Rhodes at the 2011 Fall Field Day
at Groton Plantation, Mr. Bonnie's 'home place'

The United States Department of Agriculture can seem like a giant governmental operation in the distant District of Columbia. Beyond the acronyms and the federal red tape that comes with them, the Lowcountry of South Carolina’s representation in the system is formidable. Some of the political forces that helped form the ACE Basin are no longer in place, and Undersecretary Robert Bonnie is now a voice that can help drive conservation to reach new goals in the near term.
So this gent with the pedigree of Lowcountry land ownership and the knowledge of pointing dogs is now the USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Mr. Bonnie oversees the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) which helps to administer programs of the Farm Bill. Mr. Bonnie visited with the media while attending the ACE Basin 25th anniversary on November 2 at Nemours Plantation.
Bonnie with Mike McShane at Nemours on 11/2/2014.
Click here for Video Interview from that day.
“I believe that the ACE Basin has had an effect on the world of conservation far beyond the borders of South Carolina,” said Bonnie. “The ripple effect is that other organizations are looking at the ACE Basin and saying they need to find a way to work across a landscape that is largely in private ownership with federal and state lands mixed in. The model from the ACE Basin, regarding outreach to landowners and easement acquisition piece by piece, has now been exported to other regions.” Of course NAWCA is playing a role in the conservation efforts in the ACE and in S.C.
“From the USDA point of view I can report that we have played a role thus far in the ACE Basin, and I see opportunities where more resources could be brought to bear,” said Bonnie. “For example, the Forestry Legacy Program has spent 11 million dollars in the ACE Basin. The Wetlands Reserve Program restores private wetlands and places them under easements, and the Safe Harbor program relieves landowners of restrictions from Endangered Species rules.”
It’s worth noting that twenty red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW) were translocated into the ACE Basin on November 6. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained the woodpecker colony from the Francis Marion National Forest and placed them onto private lands enrolled in the Safe Harbor program. Groton Plantation is home to many Red-cockaded woodpeckers and Bonnie loves how federal forest lands can play a role to bring RCW’s to the ACE Basin.

To view this feature story in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Snow Geese Show Up in South Carolina

This quartet of S.C. hunters had a great day - thanks to a Snow Goose

Peeling off a snow goose to add to a mixed bag of ducks can give a hunter an advantage over his hunting partners, but not always. For instance Jack Hudgens was hunting out of a john boat with his friends waiting on some wood ducks when a lone snow goose flew by. A barrage of shots was fired and the snow goose was hit several times before folding up. No one man could take credit for the snow goose harvest, so it brought them all a shared feeling of success, providing a great story to tell about their memorable start to duck season.

Daryl Hodge with an opening day Snow Goose in Lancaster
Snow goose season in S.C. will run uninterrupted between December 6 and January 25 from one-half hour before sunrise until sunset, and waterfowlers should keep their eyes and ears open. The call of a snow goose is less excited than that of a Canada goose, and it also carries a higher pitch. Daryl Hodge with the Wrecking Crew guide service in Lancaster harvested one snow goose on opening day with a passing shot that took his hunt from a bummer to a stunner.

Here in South Carolina the harvest of a snow goose begins with the identification of a bird that most have never seen before. Fortunately, they earn their name for the snow white plumage they wear from head to toe with the exception of some black coloration on their wingtips. Therefore, S.C. hunters should see a snow goose as sticking out like a sore thumb against the blue sky. They readily join in with flocks of resident Canada geese and should also be easy to identify mixed in with the darker colored geese.

Lesser snow geese historically migrated down the Pacific flyway to winter in California and the Mississippi flyway to winter along the Gulf in Louisiana and Texas. But since brackish and saltwater marshes offer the food and cover that the snow geese seek, it’s no surprise that they may begin to migrate across all four flyways and into South Carolina. The ACE Basin has preserved thousands of acres of wetlands and this stabilization of the ecosystem should attract a wide range of migratory birds over the long term including shorebirds, wading birds and raptors and not just waterfowl.

To read this article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2014 Business at the Backwater

Jamey Copeland hosts principles from utilities and banks
Hunters Dillon Risher and Hannah Alanna Lane
The tenth annual Business After hours at the Backwater in Walterboro was held on November 13. Jamey Copeland from The Flower Barn and Old Seed Counter hosted the event that draws Colleton County's finest networkers into the country. Jamey has also hosted Scott Leysath before, and he likes Polo too. The Backwater may be deep and cold and dark, but the grounds next to it are well lit and come with an array of outdoor enjoyment options like the fire pit and cooking station. The first course included oysters and hotdogs, before chicken wings and filets, with a huge dessert bar ready to finish the buffet right. Great weather allowed for a large crowd to attend, and I93.7 FM was on hand to conduct a live radio show. Can't wait for the 2015 Biz at the Backwater!

Jim Nolte and Brantley Strickland produce Front Porch Sports

Thanks to the Walterboro Chamber of Commerce