Monthly Archives: April 2010

Gov.’s hunt, day #2

4:30 a.m. and heading out again with Addy York, the young woman on the Governor’s Turkey Hunt. Again, great young woman. Her father, A.Y. York has gone to great lengths to make sure she gets to enjoy the outdoors.

Things were kind of slow yesterday. Guide Joel Pile took us to some places where he’d scouted plenty of big toms. But all we had by the decoys were young jakes and hens.

Oh well, today’s another day.

About 25 of 67 hunters killed birds today. One of six youth.

So far the hunt’s heaviest turkey was 23.88 lbs.

The longest beard was 11 3/8 in.

And the best over-all score is 73.125 inches.

Look for the final results on Sunday’s outdoors page.

Let the hunt begin!

Up at 4 a.m. and headed for a much-needed cup of coffee, more breakfast than I should probably eat and then off on this year’s Governor’s Turkey Hunt.

I’ll be tagging along with 17-year-old Addy York, her father and guide as they try to get her a shot at a tom. Having met Addy last night I’d say any tom in shotgun range is soon to be the guest of honor at a York family dinner.

Amazing young woman, really. To look at her twisted body is to know the challenges she’s faced and is still facing. To listen to her speak, through a thick accent from the hills, is to hear someone who loves the outdoors and won’t let anything keep her from it.

You can read more about her on Sunday’s outdoors page.

I also spent a few minutes last night visiting with Gov. Mark Parkinson and Attorney General Steve Six. The Gov.’s honestly excited to try hunting and it sounds like he’s well-practiced with his shooting. Six is an avid outdoorsman and eager to try to break his string of bad luck on the past two hunts.

This the 24th hunt and I’ve been here as guide, hunter or journalist for at least 18 of those so I’m seeing  a lot of familiar faces.

Many guides are complaining they aren’t seeing many turkeys while scouting. Others are reporting the toms are gobbling well and really coming to calls.

Stay tuned for more updates.

The east gate in the spring

Kansas is full of special places. For every outdoors-lover there’s probably that one location they rank above all others.

I guess I’m kind of selfish because I have several special places. In the winter it’s the north blind at Charley Kimbell’s legendary waterfowl pond in Reno County. In the fall it’s a good buddy’s 26,000 acre ranch in Gove County. In the heat of the summer it’s our family farm.

This time of year it’s the east gate of a longtime friend’s ranch. I left home at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday to be at the small knoll overlooking a Flint Hills stream before daylight. The first day I just leaned against the car to watch the sunrise, sip coffee and listen to the Flint Hills awaken.

Blooming redbuds stand in contrast to dark cedars and light sycamores along tghe stream near the east gate, one of Michael Pearces favored places.

Blooming redbuds stand in contrast to dark cedars and light sycamores along tghe stream near the east gate, one of Michael Pearces favored places.

Wednesday morning I left my Honda parked at the gate and eased down into the creek bottom as the darkness of night gave way to the grayness of pre-dawn.

Sitting against a huge oak I listened to howling coyotes, passing wood ducks and geese and barred owls. The “you ol’ foooool” calls of dancing male prairie chickens was non-stop from the nearby prairie.

Brilliant redbud trees pocked the landscape with welcome color.

From daylight on I swapped turkey talk with a pair of gobbling toms that had roosted across the stream. Insisting the unseen hen (me) be the one that crossed the creek, they surely gobbled 200 times.

I first saw them about 100 yards out, seconds after they’d flown the creek. It took ten wonderful minutes for them to walk, look and strut into shotgun range. The last two sets of gobbles were so close they could be felt as well as heard.

The tom I shot was 22 pounds, with one-inch spurs and a 9 1/2-inch beard. Not huge, but very nice. It was one of many toms I’ve tagged near the east gate on an opening morning of spring turkey season.

Back at my car I just stood and looked out over the east gate’s view of the valley. I gave serious thought to grabbing my fly rod and hitting the stream for largemouth and spotted bass for an hour or so before heading home.

But I didn’t. I’ll save that for another trip.  I’m always looking for excuses to make the hour-long drive to the east gate.

Yard birds!

OK, Karen, now you’ve got me trying to think what species I’ve seen in or from our yard.

Beware birding perfectionist, this list won’t be anywhere near perfect.

So, here goes – grackles, bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Flicker, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, ??? Gull, Mallards, Wood Ducks, Canada Goose, Double-Breasted Cormorants (typo especially for Steve Sorensen), White-Fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross’ Goose, Sandhill Cranes, Great Blue Heron, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Junco, House Finch, Gold Finch, Thrush, Thrasher, Cuckoo (inside the house, very alive, thanks to the cat!), Mourning Dove, Collared Dove, Pigeon, House Sparrow, Harris Sparrow, Chimney Swift, Purple Martin, Merlin, Kestrel, Nighthawks, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Common Egret, Black-Capped Chickadee. large numbers of most species of waterfowl and pheasants…but they arrived in the back of my truck. :-)

Who knows how many species of LBBs.

No doubt Cheryl Miller’s heard more than that in a single evening at our house (she has disgustingly good hearing) but I’ve always had poor hearing.

Oh, almost forgot, I’ve seen  lots of JAYHAWKS, too!

One birdy county!

For most of us it’s a pretty big deal to walk into our backyards and see six species of birds. At best we might remember 20-30 different kinds of birds we’ve seen on our block.

Well, one Wichita birder has tallied 339 different species in Sedgwick County alone.

That’s not a typo – he’s spotted 339 different species of birds within the confines of one lone county.

The guy is Pete Janzen, one of the best-known local birders who seems to get around a bit.

Monday the KSBIRD-Listserv, an online system dedicated to helping Kansas birders share information with others, listed total species found in all 105 Kansas counties. It also listed the birders who’d found the most species.

As well as leading the Sedgwick County count Pete had the first or second-highest totals in about 14 other counties. Not bad for a youngster…who happens to be about my age. :-)

But far more impressive to me is the total of 380 different species of birds that have been found in Sedgwick County – one of Kansas most heavily-populated counties.

380 – wow!

When left is right!

Sometimes left is right, even for right-handed people – at least when it comes to shooting. So it was for an ex-governor.

For those who don’t know, most humans have a dominant eye that largely controls their line of sight. I’m right eye dominant so when I look down a gun’s barrel with my right eye the rifle or shotgun ends up pointing right where I’m looking. If I use my left eye the gun ends up pointing quite a bit to the  left of where my eye tells me it’s aiming.

Many times I’ve seen shooters struggling to even hit within the same zip code of where they’d like because they’re using the wrong eye.

Several years ago Gov. Kathleen Sebelius showed up at the Gov’s hunt for her first time afield. “Friends who hunt a lot” had taught her to shoot. The first day she missed a nice tom and then missed two more the second.

On the hunt I noticed she was holding her head funny when looking down the barrel as she shot right-handed. Before the next spring Chris Tymeson, a Wildlife and Parks attorney and experienced shotgunning instructor, checked her eye dominance and found she was left eye dominant.

The next hunt Gov. Sebelius came ready to shoot left-handed and shot a nice tom from the first flock that was called to within range.

Years ago I hunted several times with a friend and his girl friend, Marilyn Underwood. She hardly drew feathers despite a lot of shooting on several trips. Standing behind her on one flush I saw she still had the gun’s barrel well behind the flushing rooster when she pulled the trigger.

I checked, she was left-eye dominant and shooting right-handed. We worked a bit on shooting left-handed at snowballs and went back to hunting. She killed the next rooster that flushed and a couple of more before the day was done.

Checking for one’s dominant eye is easy. Take a DVD and hold it at arm’s length, staring hard at some object across the room through the hole. Never taking your stare from the object slowly pull the DVD back to your face. It’ll go right to your dominant eye.

Some deal with cross-eye dominance by closing the dominant eye when they shoot so the lesser eye does the sighting. Works, but shooters lose depth of field vision.

When possible, though, it’s best to just learn to shoot with the dominant eye side of your body.

Interestingly enough I’ve found more women to be left eye dominant than men. Dunno why. Never seen such a thing stated by others but I’m guessing at least 35-percent of the women I’ve taught to shoot were left eye dominant.

And all shot better when shooting left-handed.

And you thought Cousin Eddy was bad

I’m not sure Jeff Foxworthy has enough redneck jokes to do this guy justice.

“Turtle Man” makes ol’ Cousin Eddy from Coolidge, Kansas seem like an Ivy League grad.

Click here to see a video clip that’s been on the web for a while.

Gotta give the guy the credit though, he seems very happy with his life.

No amount of sophistication insures that.

Tuffy the redbud tree awakens – again!

He’s running a couple of weeks behind most redbud trees, his lavender buds are only the size of the head of a matchstick.

The fact that he’s budding at all makes all in my family smile.

Tuffy came to our house as a twig of a sapling when Jerrod was in about the second grade. Then a Cub Scout, he’s now 23 and in grad school.

We let Jerrod pick the spot for planting the tree in the backyard, watered it a few times and then largely forgot about it – far too many times.

In coming years I mowed Tuffy to the ground a few years. Several times Jerrod’s beagle – Abbi – gnawed Tuffy almost out of sight before I got smart enough to put a protective cage around the little tree.

All went well until we got Hank, our Lab. I’d no sooner commented on how well Tuffy was growing than I came home to find Hank had chewed the tree right at the top of the two-foot-high cage.

For the next few years Tuffy continued to grow, get a few leaves but showed none of a redbud’s namesake blossoms.

One spring day I commented that I’d given up hope Tuffy would ever show significant growth and bloom. When I came home that evening I saw one very visible bud.

A few years ago we had a tree spade move Tuffy to our front yard where he could get more sun and be better appreciated. All three springs since Tuffy’s been a little late coming from his winter sleep.

After all he’s been through we certainly can’t blame him.

Of lost bets and favored birds…

I lost a bet over the weekend and will have to settle-up this morning.

And I’m danged happy.

I’ll gladly pony-up the price of a Diet Dr. Pepper to know one of my favorite birds is back in southcentral Kansas.

Minutes into a job interview ten years ago Sherry Chisenhall, then the managing editor of The Eagle, brought up her appreciation for scissor-tailed flycatchers. I told her they’d been my favorite Kansas songbird since my father stopped our ’53 Chevy to show me one about 45 years ago.

I remember it as clearly as the first time I saw two deer, heard Kansas barred owls and saw my first-ever bald eagle in Lawrence.

Sherry, an avid and accomplished birder and angler now The Eagle’s editor, can also go into great detail about when she drove past her first scissortail near Medicine Lodge after coming to Kansas from North Carolina.

Every spring since we’ve had a good-natured contest to see the first scissortail of a spring. It’s become a pretty big deal.

Easter morning I got a “They’re heeeeeeeeere” text from Sherry, meaning she’d seen her first of the spring and won the bet.

Other years she’s gotten garbled messages from someplace in rural central Kansas when I’ve seen my first of the season.

And it’s never been more than a few days before the loser of the bet gets a look at a scissortail. Within a week or two the birds are common sights for both of us.

Knowing I get to enjoy watching the gorgeous aerial acrobats for about six months is worth every penny it will cost me to buy Sherry the can of Diet Dr. Pepper later today.

Click this line to learn more about scissortails.

Easy come, easy gone

Thursday morning the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge was one of the hotspots in the American birding world.

Wednesday evening biologists were amazed to find more than 60 whooping cranes on the refuge. Dawn the next day the count was 76.

It’s a red letter day one of America’s best-known endangered species is found in Kansas. A dozen is a huge deal and most years far less than a total of 76 whoopers are seen on Quivira during an entire fall or spring migration.

The 76 Thursday morning was by far a one day record for Q.

By 4 p.m. that same day biologists said all of the birds had flown on. Three were seen just before sunset. Nobody expects many, if any, to be around this weekend.

So it goes in the outdoors.

One hour the fish can be biting and by the time a buddy makes it out after work the same day they’re not. One morning migrating ducks are swarming every waterhole in the county and the next the skies are empty.

That’s because we’re dealing with living creatures reacting to real conditions in the wild.

The whoopers probably rode Thursday’s freight train of a southwind northward in their hurry to get to their Canadian breeding grounds. Fish in a feeding frenzy can go neutral the minute a cold front hits. Arctic blasts that freeze ponds can be the kiss of death to duck hunters who use those waters. Warm spells that thaw those ponds cripples the success of hunters who work the rivers where waterfowl concentrate when all else is ice.

And there are days when the wild animals are simply wild, like when a sapsucker isn’t where it’s been for days or the deer don’t hit the feed fields until after dark.

But that’s what makes those days of spotted whoopers or quick limits of walleye or pheasants so special. And that’s why we go often and stay long.

In the outdoors, you just never know.