Friday, September 17, 2010

It's berry picking time

Normally I would have already picked my elderberries by now, but this year the powers that be conspired against me. First there was a crew working on the road that leads up the mountain behind my place, and the road was closed to traffic. Then I became involved in a minor capacity in a search and rescue operation. That is a rather sad story, and I really haven’t felt much like posting it here. It could have turned out much worse than it did though, and I may still write about it, but at another time. Now, this being a Friday, the general deer and bear seasons open tomorrow, and I really don’t want to be out in the mountains this weekend. Maybe not this entire week. So I put off the elderberry picking for now and went after the black berries today.


The berries are as numerous as ever in my favorite patch, but they seem smaller than in previous years. I have a berry bush in my back yard too, and it isn’t doing well this year. I have to cut that bush back every fall to keep it from taking over the back of my house, and maybe I over did it last fall and it put all its energy into new grown instead of producing berries. Or maybe it is just a bad year for black berries. Be that as it may, the berries where I went today were really in need of picking. Bordering on over ripe, some would fall off the bush at the slightest touch; but full of juice and sweet as honey. I have the purple stained hands to prove it. I came away with a pretty good haul.


Tomorrow I will run them through my sieve to separate the seeds and any small stems from the juice and pulp which will be turned into jars of black berry jam. Then I’ll see about those elderberries.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Chigger's day out

I started out yesterday with a plan to check out a little used road on private timber company land. There are a couple of good spots up the road to set up a calling stand, a creek where I might possibly wet a line, and an old trailhead several miles farther up the mountain. The road and surrounding property are all owned by the timber company, and the road is not maintained. If there are no plans for a logging operation, the company isn’t going to waste money keeping the road up. The gate across the road had been closed all last winter, but with summer here and deer season not far off, I thought it might be open now as it usually is at this time of the year. No such luck! The gate was closed and locked, and I had to back down the road to a wide spot to turn around. I had another place in mind where I wanted to try calling.

I had Bear out with me the last time, so this was Chigger’s day. When I started up the dirt road I soon ran into bear sign. There were tracks of several different bears along the side of the dusty road, and bear scat was prevalent where they had been eating manzanita berries. There was more bear sign here than I had seen anywhere so far this year, and I stopped to shoot the video below.

I parked the truck where an old skid trail leads up a ridge. I took my camera pack with me, turned Chigger lose, and began hiking up the trail. There was some bear scat here too, but I also found old fox scat. Not surprising, as the spot I was headed to is one of my favorite places to call from. I have called fox there many times, plus a couple of coyotes and a cougar. It would really be unusual not to find fox and possibly bobcat scat along this trail.

The trail up the ridge leads to an old road that has been washed out for years and is inaccessible to traffic. A hundred yards along this trail and I walked down another old skid trail to the place I wanted to call from. I sat down on an old stump, tied Chigger to a handy tree next to me, and set the camera up on a tripod. I chose to use an open reed mouth blown call made from a deer antler; a gift from a custom call maker several years ago.

I was only a few minutes into the call when I heard a slight sound to my left. The fox had come in behind me, right down the skid trail I had walked in on. It was within 6 feet of me before it saw me, and I saw it. The fox stopped for a few seconds, gave me a hard look, then jumped sideways and beat feet down the hill and into the brush. Naturally this all happened to fast to even turn the camera on, let alone catch any of it on video.

Chigger had seen the fox, so I unsnapped him and let him go. To my surprise the fox was still right there in the brush! It hadn’t run off, and Chigger took it for a little run. He wasn’t gone long and soon came back up the hill to me. Then the fox began to bark at us! This was ideal, and Chigger went back down the hill again. He stayed a little longer that time, but it was really hot by now, 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and Chigger was soon back with his tongue hanging out. It was enough. Not bad or a dog that hasn’t quite turned 13 months old yet, and this was the first fox he had ever seen.

Still more scat

Farther up the mountain, as I hiked to one of my favorite calling locations, I came across yet another kind of scat. While I may seem to be preoccupied with different kinds of scat, paying attention to this sort of thing is a good indication of the kinds of animals living in or passing though the country. While tracks are a good indication of recent activity, they may not last long or even be visible on hard ground. Scat may lay around for a long time, and the knowledge of what animal left it, and what that animal has been eating, is useful information to a hunter or wildlife observer.

A different kind of scat

Yesterday I took Chigger out for a little calling experience which I will go into in another post. While driving up the mountain, I came across more bear sign than I have seen anywhere this year. Judging from the different sizes of tracks, it appeared that several bears had been feeding there in the last few days. I took the time to get the camera out and shoot the following video.