Thursday, August 27, 2015

Prescribed Fire Education Options

August Prescribed fire at Webb Center WMA
The benefit from periodic prescribed fire includes the threat reduction of wildfire, and the continued presence of fire in an ecosystem that evolved with it. Bob Franklin of Walterboro recently finished his career with the Clemson Extension, educating landowners about pine tree management using prescribed fire. Franklin now chairs the S.C. Tree Farm Committee, but also works with the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council and the Longleaf Alliance since many of their agendas overlap. 

Prescribed Fire Burning Kit

Private land managers attend Fire Academy

Bob Franklin and Randy Tate are with the Longleaf Alliance

Most recently, Franklin was a speaker at the Longleaf Fire Academy held at the Webb Center WMA in Hampton County. Franklin advises landowners interested in prescribed fire tactics, that the next date to be looking forward to is September 23 – 24 when the S.C. Prescribed Fire Council (SCPFC) comes to Walterboro. The meeting will begin with a field trip on Wednesday to Clarendon Farms in Beaufort hosted by plantation manager Jason Hewett and the SoloACE longleaf partnership.

Landowners using fire should view programs such as the SCPFC meeting and the Longleaf Fire Academy as a form of continuing education, since a lifetime of experiences can be learned when informative speakers share their experiences. Another tool available to landowners is the S.C. Forestry Commission’s program called Certified Prescribed Fire Manager (CPFM). Since state government administers this course, it actually works within state laws to provide some measure of liability protection to those who practice prescribed fire after taking the time to complete the CPFM criteria. 

To view this story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view a 10-minute video about Longleaf Pine Forests click here.

To view past blog entries about controlled burning click on 2015 Prescribed FirePlowing Firebreaks - 2014 Dry Weather Fire Threat - SCDNR Prescribed Fire 2013 Prescribed Fire - 2012 Prescribed Fire 2009 Wildfire - 2009 Prescribed Fire Council

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

2015 S.C. Plantation Managers meet in Walterboro

SCDNR's Jay Cantrell on Webb Center WMA 

Informal gatherings of plantation managers in South Carolina have been going on since the late 1970’s, so they can compare notes about planting season, prior to the busy onset of hunting seasons. The meeting place has usually been determined by which plantation might be able to host such as gathering, but in the 2010’s the need for a proper facility increased. Colleton County’s farmer’s market hosted the 2015 Plantation Manger’s meeting on August 20 since it is in a central location for much of the coastal plain.
The S.C. Plantation Managers Association (SCPMA) is a group of land managers in pursuit of excellence when it comes to wildlife habitat and crop production. A typical management block might be in the neighborhood of 5000-acres, so this group represents several thousands of acres in S.C. and they consult with their colleagues all the time about conditions in the field. In fact, this meeting commands the attention of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and they usually send several representatives to give updates and renew partnerships.

Plantation Managers listen to Paula Sisson with USFWS,
speaking about endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers
Billy Dukes is the SCDNR Chief of Wildlife and he addressed the crowd with updates on personnel changes, and touched on recent regulation updates. Dukes announced that SCDNR’s Dean Harrigal is now promoted to Region Four Coordinator for the entire coastal plain. Biologist Daniel Barrineau is now in charge at the Donnelly WMA and Bear Island WMA, which are both based in Colleton County. SCDNR biologist Jay Cantrell addressed the meeting about the latest research that is now underway at the Webb Center in Hampton County, with wild turkeys wearing GPS-type devices in order to track their patterns concerning a decline in reproduction rates.

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

To view past blog entries from the S.C. Plantation Managers click 2009 - 2010 - 2011

To view past blog entries about Quail Habitat Managers click 2014

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Report - 8/25/2015

Fishing Report for the Coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina:
Remember to bow to the The Silver King!
Inshore Report: Scott Hammond at Haddrell's Point West cheers that September is right around the corner, and he expects the fantastic tarpon bite to continue right through the annual mullet migration. He shares that reports of a solid tarpon bite have been received from up in Georgetown all the way down to Hilton Head, especially around ocean inlets. Large live mullet, live blue crabs, or even a large Hogy artificial have been the baits of choice for pods of tarpon moving into our estuary. Place your tarpon baits into slews between sand bars, and into other drop offs next to channels that these beasts are cruising through. Also, look out for sharks and bull red drum in these same locations - and who doesn't love a mixed bag while saltwater fishing. Back in the rivers, decent numbers of small trout are being caught around creek mouths using live shrimp under a popping float, or using a Zman Trout Trick lure. Sheepshead continue to be found around bridges and almost any heavy structure in 6 to 20-feet of water, and they are looking to inhale fiddler cabs or live shrimp. For the latest seminar information visit the Internet at Haddrell's Point.

Offshore Report: By now, Scott says that most anglers are already in tune with the great wahoo bite going on off the coast. Reports of between two and thirteen wahoo per trip have been coming in from those fishing in 110 to 250-feet of water, and at the Edisto Banks. High speed trolling certainly has produced its fair share of the wahoo, but plenty of strikes are coming simply when trolling Iland lures with a medium ballyhoo rigged behind it. After you put a wahoo or two in the box, slip back to 80 to 90-feet of water and drop down over live bottom for plenty of nice sized sea bass and vermillion snapper.

To view past Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Reports click here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Field Notes and Photos - August 2015

Armadillo and crabapple in homemade wooden trap
Field Notes is a column I began eleven years ago in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, but as the amount of newsprint space in the 'salmon sheets' has diminished, so has the space for my nature photography. Now when I have a fresh batch of observations I share them via Lowcountry Outdoors. 

To view past Field Notes click on July 2015June 2015 - February 2105 - October 2014  September 2014 - August 2014 - June 2014 - March 2012 - February 2012 - October 2011 - September 2011  
Snapping turtle emerges - notice the leeches!
Deer fawn lost in the neighborhood

Blue dragonfly perching on mailbox

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Seasonal Signals Show Summer Changing Into Fall

Beautiful blue dragonfly perching on my mailbox

Insect life is still going full speed with all the sunny and hot weather, which is conducive to an on the go lifestyle. Ants and bees are the most common sightings, especially since they are always actively working to better their home colony. I recently came across a freshly built honeycomb on the underside of a large live oak limb, and I consider such a sighting to be rare. I shared my observation with a friend, and he had also recently identified a similar honeycomb. Not everyone will have the same observations, but keep an open mind about what you are seeing in your neck of the woods.
Some subtle observations have been made since the month of August began. As an avid birdwatcher, I can report that there has been a slight increase in the activity of the hummingbirds. These hummers move in during spring and stick around for six months or more, so this observation is based over time. I still see plenty of flowers in bloom right now, and nectar can be a main source of food for the hummers, but as summer dwindles so too will the blooms.

Other August observations include leaves on hardwood trees already changing colors and beginning to fall off. Go find and look at a black gum tree in the woods right now and you will likely see red leaves, and any early changes might be greatly influenced by the long hot and dry summer season of 2015. As temperatures cool down just a bit, reptiles like snakes will increase their daytime activities and sightings will likely increase. Snapping turtles will emerge from farm ponds with the onset of fall, and the larger specimens are always worth a quick look to marvel at their continued presence on the landscape.

To read this article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries on other wildlife click on Bats - Horses - Wood Storks 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bird Hunting Seasons set for 2015 - 2016

Dove hunters will be ready and waiting on Sept. 5

If you are a wingshooter, then the longest layoff of the year is nearing a close. Once Canada goose season opens on September 1, it is followed by a string of bird hunting opportunities, including the most popular pursuit of them all – dove hunting. While it’s good to know the season dates to begin planning your outdoor pursuits, this knowledge also signals that it is time to gather the shotgun shells, camouflage and other tools of the trade necessary for time spent in the field.
Reports up in Canada are beginning to reveal that some birds are moving South. Migratory geese can be part of that first wave of migration, along with colorful songbirds and other avian life. Of course, resident Canada geese are the main target of the month long season that runs until September 30, but migratory geese can mix in with their flocks. It takes a commitment to scouting in order to locate any geese, and even then the daily bag limit of 15 geese per day would be a challenge to meet.
Dove season begins on the Saturday before Labor Day, and the first three days from Sept. 5 – 7 will allow only afternoon dove hunts. Between a Saturday season opener, and the Labor Day Holiday on Monday, this should give wingshooters some great days to get the proverbial rust off of their aim. Also, the beginning of dove season ushers in the social settings that many Lowcountry dove hunting enthusiasts fondly recall as the best part of the hunt, where equal parts of good food and good stories help to flavor the bird hunting ritual.

To read this feature article in the Colletonian click here.

To view past blog entries click on Preparing a Dove Field - 2014 Regulations Update - September's Sporting Song

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Deer Hunting Season Begins Aug. 15 in S.C. Game Zone Three

Deer stands will be busy on opening day
The traditional start date for deer hunting season in the Lowcountry of South Carolina remains August 15, and runs until January 1. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) reports that deer populations have declined over the past ten years, and that white-tailed deer management is now more important than ever, especially with the colonization of coyotes. One change for 2015 by SCDNR is the consolidation of Game Zones in the state, thereby changing our area formerly known as Game Zone Six, into Game Zone Three.

Charles Ruth is the deer and wild turkey program coordinator for the SCDNR. Readers of the Colletonian may recall that Ruth came to town in 2014 to speak at a meeting of the ACE Basin branch of the Quality Deer Management Association. In a May 2015 letter to deer hunters regarding doe harvest, Ruth addresses the fact that while deer populations may be in a decline over the past tens years, a more moderate population increases the overall herd quality.

A higher quality deer herd equates to larger trophy bucks being harvested, giving hunters something to think about as they pursue white-tailed deer in search of a ‘wallhanger’ this season. The practice of restraint, or trigger management, will allow younger bucks to be passed up so that they might grow into mature bucks in the near future. Good Luck Hunting!

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

To view the bird hunting seasons for 2015 - 2016 click here.

For past blog entries about Opening Days Deer Success Stories click on 2014- 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Report - 8/11/2015

Fishing Report for the Coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina:
Tailing redfish are always fun to target!
Inshore Report: Scott Hammond at Haddrell's Point West shares that Mother Nature is providing a gift in the form of temps in the 80's during August. That same wise lady is also providing a plethora of big bull redfish for those fishing live baits or cut mullet around the jetties. A strong flounder bite is also happening naturally around rock piles and other structure in 5 to 10-feet of water. Go with live minnows or a Zman Jerk Shadz, or for an artificial lure try out a small spinner blade, also known as a fluke killer - which works well in dirty water and while drift fishing. Sheepshead are still taking fiddler crabs fished around pilings in 8 to 20-feet of water, and customers are still seeing a decent number of small to mid-sized trout. The specks are eating live shrimp fished under a popping float or try free-lining a savage gear shrimp near creek mouths. For the latest seminar information visit the Internet at Haddrell's Point.

Offshore Report: Scott shares that a steady diet of East-Northeast winds will keep most boats at the dock, but a few did manage to get out deep and they encountered a terrific wahoo bite in 130 to 200-feet of water. High-speed trolling was the best way to target the speedy and silver gamefish with a penchant for fast action. A few sailfish continue to be found offshore. Bottom fishing in water depths from 70 to 120-feet of water is producing vermilion snapper, sea bass and a few nice grouper too. While live baits work great for grouper, don't discount the Blue Water Candy roscoe jig as a great way to vertically jig up some big beastly bottom dwellers.

To view past Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Reports click here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Going for Goliath Grouper on the Gulf

My second Goliath Grouper of the day!!

A summertime soiree of seafood options and Gulf coast adventures made my second trip to Southwest Florida remarkable. Charleston Mercury readers may recall my October 2009 sojourn to Pine Island and inshore fishing out of the Tarpon Lodge. This 2015 trip focused on nearshore fishing for goliath grouper in Boca Grande Pass, and tours of Gasparilla, Placida, Cape Haze and Manasota Key.
Whole blue crab that was expelled by the grouper,
when it was trying to get free of the hook!
The greater Charlotte Harbor area is anchored by the city of Punta Gorda. This niche along Florida’s Southwest Gulf coast is about an hour north of Fort Myers and an hour south of Tampa Bay. The Peace River and the Myakka River make up most of the  Charlotte Harbor flow and each are massive in width, making this the second largest harbor found in Florida. It’s no wonder that Sail Magazine lists them in the Top Ten sailing destinations and Yachting Magazine has them listed in the Top 50 Best Towns.
Capt. Leroy Bennett displays a nice Goliath Grouper
Charleston is no stranger to 'Best Of' accolades and the Gulf Islands earn points for being off the beaten path somewhat. There are any number of hotels rooms and rental homes offered in Southwest Florida, but for an exclusive stay take a clear look at Cape Haze, and the Palm Island Resort.  Only accessible by ferry, this private island offers villas that overlook pristine Gulf beaches with white sands and colorful seashells. Guest Relations specialist Lisa Halpin is always glad to help visitors navigate their amenities which includes a marina, tennis courts and the Rum Bay Restaurant where I dined on fresh pompano.
Ken Cook battles a Goliath grouper,
and Capt. Leroy is working hard.
Our fishing trip was based out of Gasparilla Marina and included two fishing guides. Both Chris O’Neill of Tail Chaser Charters and Captain Leroy Bennett of Tap Out Charters worked hard to get four anglers into position to catch and release their first ever goliath groupers. I was with Captain Bennett in his 22-foot Aquasport boat with an Evinrude 150 Etec engine as we idled up to a small island covered in mangroves. “We’ll stop here to catch some live mullet, and I’ll be throwing a 10-foot cast net,” said Bennett. A net full of big mullet looked good to me, but Bennett emptied it back into Charlotte Harbor and declared that they weren’t big enough. “We are going for grouper that will likely be 100-pounds or larger, so only a horse-sized mullet is going to interest them as bait.”
After successfully securing enough bait for both boats, we moved to the old phosphate mine dock at the Boca Grande Pass. A menagerie of dock pilings about 200-yards from shore provide the structure and habitat the goliath grouper seek out as a place to take up residence. Since there is no chance to fight these fish inside the pilings, the best tactic is to yank them away from their lair using a Penn 50-wide reel spooled with 600-pound test line and attached to a 20-ought Mustad hook.
Dinner at Rum Bay Restaurant after a day of fishing;
Lisa Halpin, Chef, Jeff and David Hawkins
Capt. Bennett pushed the bow of the boat into the pilings so that my bait could tempt a goliath grouper to bite while sitting on a cooler holding a stout rod and heavy tackle. It did not take long for a grouper to latch onto my offering, and for a moment it is simply angler-versus-fish while the Captain puts the boat in reverse to aid in the process of getting into open water. If you have ever had a rod bent over, and the reel would not turn due to the force the fish is exerting on the other end of the line, then you know what it is like to fight a goliath grouper! Yet once alongside the boat, they become a gentle giant and are seemingly willing to pose for photos, perhaps knowing that they will soon be released.
Even this lifelong saltwater angler had to pause and give thanks for the natural resources of the Gulf that can produce such a grand gamefish! Needing a rest break, we ate lunch while running to a backwater slew that would soon be flowing with inshore fish with the incoming tide. We picked at the small snook, caught a decent spotted trout and just missed the inshore slam since the redfish stayed in the shade of the mangroves. The early afternoon offers hot weather, but the routine thunderstorms during their rainy season of July serves to cool Southwest Florida down before dinner, drinks and other endeavors associated with island time.

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

To view more blog entries from 2015 SW Florida click on Offshore Fishing - Field Notes - Gulf Islands - Sustainable Seafood

To view blog entries from my 2009 SW Florida trip click on Tarpon Lodge - Ding Darling NWR - Backcountry Fishing - Charlotte Harbor - Babcock Wilderness shooting range

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Local Events Get Hunters Ready for Deer Season

Early deer season in S.C. begins August 15

Deer hunting season is an annual endeavor for many, and for some it becomes a lifelong passion. Deer hunters come to respect the time they spend in the outdoors, and embrace the rites of passage that come with fair chase hunting. The final weekend before deer hunting season brings three local events together for the first time, with the Lowcountry QDMA banquet on Thursday night, the ACE Basin QDMA banquet Friday night and the Hunter’s Day Out sale on Saturday.

The 7th annual Hunter’s Day Out at Westbury’s ACE Hardware in Walterboro is always on the final weekend before deer hunting season, and the secret is out that this is the one day of the year that stands above the rest for retail deals, giveaways and helpful info too. The doors open at 8 a.m. and what’s not to like about the first 100 customers getting a free T-shirt with a sporting design on the back. The One Day Sale continues until 5 p.m. and registration for door prizes like a tree stand and game camera will go on all day.

Don’t forget you can listen to the Lowcountry Outdoors report on the radio every Wednesday morning with Uncle Miles at 7:45 when writer Jeff Dennis shares what is making headlines in the Outdoor Sports section of The Colletonian. The broadcast on 93.7 FM will also be shared with listeners again on Friday morning at 9:45 a.m. and the weekly reports will include more news about events, hunting seasons, Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Reports and much more!

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

For past blog entries about Opening Days Deer Success Stories click on 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Honey Bees Build Honeycomb in Lowcountry

Five sections were under construction
View from underneath, looking up
Imagine my surprise as a Charleston native to find a honeycomb under construction on the peninsula for the first time ever. It is located in a live oak tree that I would conservatively age at 100 years old, but aging a live oak via dendochronology is not advisable. What is more important is that the live oak is surrounded by other mature live oaks and they have formed a marvelous canopy that is home to all sorts of Lowcountry wildlife. However, when I saw wild honeybees identify this site as acceptable to them, it reminded me of the only other honeycomb I've ever seen in the Lowcountry that was attached to a live oak tree. That much more massive honeycomb was attached to even older set of live oaks at the Grove Plantation, also known as the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge.
Bugs and beetles moved in on the honeycomb

An extensive live oak canopy and honeycomb
The honeycomb I discovered in July of 2015 is located South of Calhoun Street, making it truly on the peninsula of Charleston. At first I said nothing about the endeavors of the honey bees their construction project is located high enough that most members of the public would never have noticed it. However, I am a lifelong naturalist with a trained eye for signs of the natural world. Almost daily observations allowed me to watch their progress, and with hot and humid weather they seemed to be faring well. That is until large numbers of bugs and beetles became interested in their honeycomb, and that led to birds checking around in the area with increased frequency, particularly on the ground under the honeycomb. All that attention caused the bees to abandon their project and move on. As of the first of August the honeycomb is degrading, and I wanted to share this unusual tale from where the natural world and the city intersect.

To view past blog entries about encounters with the natural world click on Bats - Snakes - American Oystercatcher

To view past Field Notes click on July 2015June 2015 - February 2105 - October 2014  September 2014 - August 2014 - June 2014 - March 2012 - February 2012 - October 2011 - September 2011  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

2015 Birding Journal Observations / May - June

Wood Stork basking in Summer Sunshine
The summer weather pattern of hot and dry conditions serves to dry up the activity at bird feeders, except during peak feeding times associated with early morning and late afternoon. My observations include that peanuts are still well received by a large suite of songbirds, but their need for suet seems to diminish. Bird seed is important but fresh, cool and clean water in the bird bath may be the number one tool to keep songbirds interested in your avian focus area.

Notable observations were May 1 black-throated blue warbler and immature male painted bunting. My May 2 observation of three Canada goose goslings was nice too. May 18 Goldfinches passed through. And I had TWO screech owls come to the bird bath at dusk on June 2!!

May / June Observations include wood stork, wood duck, blue grosbeak, brown-headed cowbird, cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, bluejay, female summer tanager, ruby-throated woodpecker, Indigo bunting, dove, bluebird, brown thrasher, mockingbird, yellow-billed cuckoo, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, red-headed woodpecker and bob-white quail.

To view the most recent Birding Journal Observation click March / April 2015

To view past Birding Journal Observations for May / June click 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009