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Snowy Egret, Vol. 65, #1
Snowy Egret, Vol. 65, #1

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Hunter's Log

Suddenly we heard the sound of barking -

the snuffling nose that pheasant hunters prize -

the labrador, quartering, flushing, marking.

I glimpsed the wolfish hunger in your eyes

as Feeney zigzagged through the rows of trees,

kicking out flustered hens on either side.

From the dry switchgrass whispering at my knees

two roosters vaulted skyward, and they died.

-- from "Hunter's Log"


"Breakfast time was bitter cold, with a delicate rime of ice in the shallow margins of the lake and plenty of frost in the sedges along the river as a rigged my tackle. The river currents flowed smooth and silent, undisturbed by the bulges of rising fish. I could still see my breath, unless I was standing in the sun, and was too impatient to wait for the hatch of fly. I slipped into the water and started to fish blind, placing a big Carmichal variant in parallel lines of drift...."

"The mature nymphs of Stenacron interpunctatum heterotarsale will average 11 to 13 millimeters in length, excluding the length of their three tails. Their background color is deep oliveaceous brown. Thr frontal margin of the head is steeped in such hues, with a pair of large cream spots ahead of each antennal root, and a small axial medallion of whit and the anterior midpoint. Pale trapezoidal areas are found at the extrolateral margins of the compound eyes. Tny pepperings of cream are found along their intralateral margins and at the cervical cornice.."

Wings in the Desert

"It is now ps

"Not only does sugaring help us remember that spring is coming, it also gives us a reason for desiring that it not progress any faster. Once we have awakened to it, we long to dwell in this protracted in-between. This time for standing in the warm, sticky sugarhouse, witnessing the alchemy of air and water into gold."

"The final week of a late sugaring season, when musical excitement fills the nights and there is still untainted sap to boil down, is thus referred to, in a phrase at once celebratory and elegaic, as "the frog run." That phrase captures for me the ludicrous urgency of the peepers' moment -- and the human moment, too. It expresses the fact that we must soon relinquish this harvest we have only recently learned to claim. Focusing all the more intensely on the process as it nears its end, we remember the softening snow that signaled its onset and anticipate the cleanup and battening down of the sugarhouse for another year."

Ahab's whale is not imagined, nor is it strictly discovered, but is found, by him, which suggests that it has an existence separate from his but also that it depends for its coherence on something extra he supplies, some conception of his own, which makes sense of things.

Groundwater is essentially nonrenewable in the arid west because the economies that exploit it cannot abide a low rate of use. By combusting nonrenewable coal and nonrenewable oil and nonrenewable natural gas, they have managed to lift nonrenewable water at incredible rates. By using water with abandon they can compete with more humid regions, where it is basically a free good. This extractive process... is the machinery behind the expression "conquest of nature"...

Once I put a bluntnose minnow from the creek in the pond. A bass gave chase immediately. The poor little minnow launched itself completely out of the weater in trying to escape, and when it came back down, the bass was there to swallow it. So far I have not seen a snapping turtle in the pond but am sure some will come when the proper food supply occurs. Snapper meat is a great delicacy.

 Comets don't cross the sky every day. Great, journal-worthy events seemed hard to come by at first. So I was forced to look hard and close and long at everyday things to fill those pages. And you know what? The closer I looked, the more journal-worthy entries I found. Take Carolina Wrens! As documented in the pages of my journal, they sing every month of the year. Take Carolina Wren nests. Did you know that the birds use paper and snake skins and string and feathers in the construction?. a birder may overlook these things, but not a bird watcher and certainly not a bird watcher who keeps a journal -- the most important book I own."Earl's Journal"

Hunter's Log
by Timothy Murphy
. 107 pp. The Dakota Institute, 2011.

The essence of autumn on the northern plains of America, and North Dakota in particular, is bagged and brought home in this collection of hunting poetry.

In a preface to his work, the poet explains that hunting has taught him accuracy of observation and, as a writer, accuracy of expression. Both skills are effectively employed in poems like "Missouri Breaks":

A blooded dog quarters the feral rye,
and my body's long quarrel with my mind
is silenced by a landscape and a sky
legible as a Bible for the blind.

Inspired by Ortega y Gassett's "Meditations on Hunting", gifted to him by his father, Timothy Murphy feels "the killing of the game is a ritual preparation for our own mortality."

In "The Blind," the poet describes an outing with an aging father:

By some ancestral code
fathers and sons don't break,
we each carry a load
of which we cannot speak.

Here we commit our dead
to the unyielding land
where broken windmills creak
and stricken ganders cry.

Father, the dog, and I
are learning how to die
with our feet stuck in the muck
and our eyes trained on the sky.

Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts and What Remains, by Barbara Hurd. 117 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2008.
Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination, by Barbara Hurd. 143 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2008.
Entering the Stone: On Caves and Feeling through the Dark, by Barbara Hurd. 170 pp. University of Georgia Press, 2008.

The final volume of a trilogy that began with "Stirring the Mud" and "Entering the Stone," "Walking the Wrack Line" examines mysterious and overlooked bits of nature that have washed ashore on far-flung beaches, from Cape Cod to Alaska.

Each essay in this book begins with close attention to some flotsam — a shell fragment, driftwood, a snail, a broken oar, a jellyfish — that inspires meditations on the wrack and ruin of the human condition: aging, transformation, habits, desires, and disappointments.

"Foaming and inching its lunar way up the beach, the sea polishes small stones, sloshes into and out of the tiny whorled and bivalved shells somersaulting in the undercurl of its waves," naturalist Barbara Hurd writes. "I take it as a given we can’t escape the way the world grinds the living into debris. But before it does, there’s a chance for the lucky encounter with someone or something—a painting or poem, a place—that can beckon to what lies broken and hungry inside us all. I believe it’s what most of us long for."

"Stirring the Mud," the first in the series, Hurd searches for metaphorical meanings in muddy places like bogs, swamps, and wetlands. "Entering the Stone" goes underground seeking deep insights from caves and other subterranean environments. All three volumes of the trilogy are being published simultanously in paperback by University of Georgia Press.

Birding Colorado: Over 180 Premier Birding Sites at 93 Locations, by Hugh Kingery. 336 pp. Falcon, 2007.

Early on any given spring morning somewhere between the Dakotas and the eastern flanks of the Cascades or the Sierras, where the sagebrush grows high and thick far from highways and houses and oil wells, there will be a clearing where a group of large chicken-like birds with long pointed tails and feathered legs will start to sing and dance.

Their music, made with air sacs in their puffed up chests, sounds something like the hollow sound made when you purse your mouth and slap your cheeks or the noise made by a loudly burbling water cooler.

Their dance isn't much more than a brief strut: a couple quick-steps, wings raised and  lowered, tail feathers displayed like a peacock's. Each dance lasts but a few seconds, but the audience of female sage grouse watch with rapt attention, judging each performer with an inscrutable ranking system that produces a single winner -- an American Idol, if you will.

The champion (the "master cock") will mate with most of the judges. The runners-up will watch and wait for another year.

People are not invited to these competitions, but with some planning and a little luck it is possible to spy on the dancing sage grouse from a distance at a few well-known "leks" across the country. Leks are the ballroom floor for the sage grouse dances. They are usually open areas adjacent to stands of tall and dense sagebrush. The best known leks have been used by grouse for decades; others may only last a year or two. In any given year at any lek, the grouse may or may not show up.

To catch a performance, you must arrive well before dawn and wait, keeping very quiet, for several hours. Viewing locations have been established in a few remote locations, like the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Lek in southwestern Colorado.

"Bring a scope to accommodate your distance from the birds," advises Hugh Kingery in "Birding Colorado," where directions to the Gunnison site are published. "We also recommend that you skip morning coffee because of the strict stay-in-your-car or stay-in-the-blind rules. "

Sage grouse are extremely shy about their mating ritual. Any disturbance -- barking dogs, slamming doors, cries of children -- may cause them to abandon a lek altogether and even give up on breeding for a season. For a species with limited habitat and declining populations, this is a serious matter.

Hens usually stay at leks for two to three days for mating, then they seek out a dense patch of sage, thick and tall enough to protect the nest and the eggs from predators like eagles, hawks, coyotes, foxes, badgers and raccoons.  The eggs usually hatch about 37 days after being laid.

In those eggs, and the ritual dancing that engenders them, lies the promise of another generation of one of the West's oldest inhabitants. They herald the arrival of spring on the western plains, as they have for thousands of years.

Details on the seasonal distributions of 481 other bird species — where they occur, their abundances, and the best times to see them -- are included in Kingery's essential Colorado birding guide. The reference covers the entire state and lists summer and winter birds by location (in the Poudre River Corridor watch for Eastern Screech-Owl, Egrets, White-faced Ibis and perhaps a Barrow's Goldeneye).

The state of Colorado boasts a bird list of some 482 species, ranking it in the top 10 U.S. states for birding. The guide includes checklists, a listing of species by habtat, and some natural history on the state's varied landscapes along with detailed descriptions of 93 locations and 180 birding sites.

Same River Twice: A Boatman's Journey Home, by Michael D. Burke. 184 pp. University of Arizona Press, 2006. .

This river-running memoir introduces readers to rough, austere, and unfamiliar rivers in the northern wilderness of British Columbia. The author, a former river guide, chronicles his three-week journey down a series of remote rivers as he comes to terms with changes in his life. His descriptions of river travel are swift and moving:

"Only as a memory was I consious of this: the lift and drop of the raft in the waves; the splashes off the tubes; the morning sun flashing on the waves; the roar of water amplified by the wall -- we descended on the wall, drawn toward it as if pulled by a string. Down and up, twisting side to side, building -- more waves, more light, more sound, until it is an explosion of sound a sight, too much to separate.

Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest, by William Neill. 312 pp. Mountain Press, 2007.

William Neill, an Oregon cardiologist who leads butterfly trips for the Audubon Society of Portland, composed this field guide that explains where and when to observe butterflies in the Pacific Northwest.
Covering 118 of the most common butterflies in Oregon and Washington and contiguous parts of other states, the book serves as an identification guide with a quick summary of facts and abundant color photographs of both male and female adults as well as caterpillars, pupae, and eggs.           

Neill also authored "The Guide to Butterflies of Oregon and Washington" (Westcliffe Publishers, 2001) and "Butterflies Afield in the Pacific Northwest" (Pacific Search Press, 1976). Douglas Hepburn is the photographer for all three publications.

Trail Guides

"Explore! Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Guide to Exploring the Roads, Trails, River, and Canyons" by Levi Novey (Falcon, 2007) is the most recent and up-to-date guide to one of the lesser-known national parks, Theodore Roosevelt is distinguished primarily by its historic relationship to its namesake. (Roosevelt said he wouldn't have been president were it not for his experiences there.) Its 70,000 acres also support abundant wildlife, considerable wilderness, and an ecological niche unique in North America. Conservationist and former park ranger, Levi Novey introduces readers to prairie dog towns, petrified forests and painted canyons. This book outlines trails, activities, points of cultural and historic interest throughout the park and beyond. The book includes a foldout color map of the park, tips on enjoying the park's backcountry, trail descriptions, and directories of area accommodations, campsites, B&Bs and other nearby amenities.

History professor Margaret Beattie Bogue leads a tour "Around the Shores of Lake Superior: A Guide to Historic Sites" (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007) , circumnavigating clockwise through Minnesota, Ontario, Michigan, and finally Wisconsin,  Along the way, she points out the  cultural and natural history landmarks along or near the shoreline. Part travel guide and part history, the updated second edition of this volume highlights hundreds of points of interest like Grand Portage, the Agawa Canyon Pictographs, Isle Royale, and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with a brief history, directions, and contact information. A foldout map is pocketed inside the back cover.

Field Guides

Small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive -- GPS units are swiftly supplementing or replacing compasses as a ubiquitous tool for outdoor travel and adventures of all kinds. In" GPS Outdoors: A Practical Guide for Outdoor Enthusiasts" (Menasha Ridge Press, 2007, outdoorsman Russell Helms explains how to select a GPS unit and use it to plan, navigate and analyze journeys far and wide. A GPS log of a trip can be converted into route maps, elevation profiles, and pinpoint distance calculations for specific locations. "GPS units are tough and can take random abuse, but sustained impacts or a severe blow can disable them," Helms points out.  Be prepared: pack a compass and topo map anyway.

Natural Histories

"Colorado Plateau III: Integrating Research and Resources Management for Effective Conservation," edited by by Charles van Riper III and Mark K. Soggee (University of Arizona Press, 2004) is the third volume in a series of research papers on the Colorado Plateau, focusing on the integration of science into resource management issues. A compendium of cutting-edge management-oriented research, it is illustrated with photos, graphs, charts and drawings. Indexed.

"The Great Cacti: Ethnobotany and Biogeography" by David Yetman (University of Arizona Press, 2007) examines the more than 100 species of columnar cacti, focusing on the 75 or so that that have been the most beneficial to humans or are most spectacular. Yetman examines the role of each species in human society, describing how cacti have provided food, shelter, medicine, and religious hallucinogens.

The lifecycles of 23 common backyard butterflies are captured in stunning closeup photographs in "The Life Cycles of Butterflies From Egg to Maturity, A Visual Guide to 23 Common Garden Butterflies" by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (Storey Publishing, 2008).

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