Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

A friend returns to angling’s elite

rushton.jpgIt’s nice to pass along good news, especially when it involves a friend.

Sharon Rushton, a long-time member of the Women’s Bassmaster Tour, will return to action at a tournament on Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake next weekend. She’d been away from the circuit for nearly a year, fighting what turned out to be a winning battle with ovarian cancer.

I got to know Sharon when she served as executive director of the Future Fisherman Foundation, and followed with interest her rise from ‘non-boater’ status on the Women’s Bassmaster Tour to her eventual status as one of the top anglers out there.

It’s great to know she’s back in competition.

coplights.jpgLast Friday, I wrote a feature story for the Gazette’s “Out There” page about the many scenic and recreational attractions in and around Gauley Bridge, W.Va.

The story drew nine comments on the paper’s Web site — a lot for that sort of feature. Most of the comments criticized Gauley Bridge’s 25-mile-an-hour speed limit and the town’s cops for writing so many speeding tickets.

Exactly one day after my feature ran in the paper, I drove through Gauley Bridge on my way to an assignment at Carnifex Ferry State Park. You guessed it. I got the “blue-light special.” The officer cited me for doing 35 mph in the town’s 25-mph zone.

I’m pretty sure I exceeded the speed limit; I’d been trying to stay under 25 mph, but upshifted when my car’s engine started to bog down. I looked down and saw the speedometer needle creeping up toward 35, but couldn’t get off the gas in time. The blue lights started flashing, and I pulled over. The officer was pleasant, polite and professional.

Still, the $150 fine is going to sting a bit. Live and learn…

Hittin’ the road…

I’m off to Nicholas County for one of those assignments that’s as much fun as it is work. You’ll be reading about it soon. I should be back here posting by sometime late Saturday. See ya!

Take five — days, that is

This will probably be my last post until July 3 or so. I’m taking my family to a camp up in  the Petersburg area, and Internet access is pretty limited.

If the Internet hookup turns out to be better than it was last year (which is doubtful), I’ll continue to post. Otherwise, expect to see a fresh post sometime during the late afternoon of July 3.

Have a great week, folks!

I’m baaaaaack!

After a week on the road, my sizable posterior is back in my cubicle’s swivel chair and my aging eyes are once again focused on a computer screen.

Blog posts will be more frequent for about a week and a half, but will likely thin out again when I leave for a family vacation. It’s that time of year…

otterbacher.jpgHis name is John Otterbacher. Heart disease tried to kill him, but he wouldn’t stop living. He resolved not just to survive, but to really live.

He set a goal to survive long enough to go on a long sailing trip with his wife and two young daughters. Their voyage, told in the book Sailing Grace, tells not only of stubborn perseverance, but of embracing mortality and finding peace in the simple act of living day to day.

I was fortunate enough to hear Otterbacher tell his story in person. I’ll be reading his book. If you like stories of survival, tender tales of family life and well-spun adventure yarns, I’d suggest you read it too.

A visit with ‘the Feathermeister’

baronsmall.jpgThe drive up to Michigan was pleasant enough, despite on-and-off rain all the way through Ohio. Perhaps my perception of the drive was colored somewhat by the treat I knew lay at the end of the trip — a visit with John McLain, perhaps the nation’s leading purveyor of Atlantic salmon fly-tying materials.

John, a retired police detective, lives in a quiet suburb beside a nice lake filled with bass and northern pike. His basement is a treasure trove of feathers and silks and tinsels and all the pretty stuff that makes classic Atlantic salmon flies so beautiful and unique.

Better yet, my wife had given me carte blanche to buy whatever I wanted — within reason, of course. I ended up buying $266 worth of materials, including some of the prettiest blue chatterer and red-ruffed fruit crow feathers I’d ever laid eyes on. I’d always wanted to tie a Green Highlander and a Jock Scott without having to substitute dyed kingfisher for chatterer and dyed pheasant for the fruit crow, and now I can.

The best part of the evening, though, was swapping fly-tying and fishing stories with John. The man’s knowledge of materials and techniques is encyclopedic, and his stature within the industry has allowed him to fish with some pretty remarkable folks.

For instance, he told of the time he went fishing in Montana with Jack Morris, the former star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. Morris offhandedly told John they were going to an adjoining ranch for dinner. The dinner was at Tom Brokaw’s, and John ended up escorting Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in from the parking area! Cool stuff.

So now it’s off to Grand Rapids and my meeting. I’ll keep you posted.

Headin’ for Michigan…

For the next week, I’ll be posting blog entries from the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s annual conference. This one’s in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Conferences like this always feature newsmakers representing all sides on any number of outdoors-related issues. I’ll post ’em as I get ’em.

Digital bird hunting

greenheron.jpgDid a little bird hunting this morning at Cabell County’s Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area. Weapon of choice: A Nikon D90 digital camera and a long telephoto lens.

Action was slow. The only ducks I saw were a pair of woodies, and they were too far away for a decent shot. I did get a few shots of a little green heron (pictured), a great blue heron and several red-winged blackbirds.

A glimpse at nature can be fleeting

robinest.jpgThis week’s column is a behind-the-scenes look at an all-too-brief interaction with a robin pair that nested on my back porch:

They grow up so fast. 
Birds, I mean. The three eggs in the robin’s nest on my back porch became hatchlings and grew into fledglings so rapidly I hardly had time to note what happened.
I sort of figured I’d see some nesting action near our house this year. The previous owner had apparently been a bit of a bird fancier, and she left behind ample evidence of her fascination when she moved out last summer. Cute little wren boxes hung from the house’s eaves, and a pair of nesting platforms had been built under the garden shed’s overhanging gable.
So naturally, when the robins set up housekeeping, they ignored all the ready-built places and built their nest in a wreath that hangs on the back porch wall.
I found the nest one morning when I walked outside to feed the dog. I fetched a scoop of food from the bin next to the back door and was walking toward Midge’s bowl when a robin – most likely the female – let out a loud chirp and flew toward the nearby woods.
Being a sharp-eyed observer of all things outdoors, I assumed the bird had been perched on the porch’s handrail and quickly forgot about the incident.
The next morning, the same thing happened. This time, though, I saw the robin dart from the wreath. A quick check confirmed what I immediately suspected; a softball-sized nest had been built inside the wreath’s cradling arc, and three perfect blue eggs lay swaddled in the nest’s soft grass bedding.
From then on, I was careful to disturb the nesting robin as little as possible. To Midge’s dismay, I scooped up the food and filled the water bowl with painstaking slowness. I crouched low and tried to avoid eye contact with the robin.
The precautions worked most of the time, but not always. I’d glance out of the corner of my eye to see if Mama Robin was on the nest, and if she was I went into my slow-motion routine. She only spooked a couple of times, and only then when I made the mistake of looking directly at her. The dog’s presence didn’t seem to bother the bird at all.
After a few days, the eggs hatched into tiny, nearly naked nestlings with closed blue bulges where their eyes would someday be. In what seemed like a heartbeat, the eyes opened and the nestlings started sprouting feathers.
My home office provides a nice view of the back porch, and I enjoyed watching Mama and Papa Robin shuttling food to the nestlings. They’d almost always land on the outbuilding’s gently sloping roof, adjust the worms or bugs or whatever they had in their beaks, and flit quickly to the edge of the nest. Once there, they’d cram the mouthful into one of the three hungry beaks and fly off to forage for more.
Earlier this week, I noticed that the nest held only one nestling, and that the young bird’s plumage was far enough along that it should be about ready to fly. A day later, the nest was empty. The adults are still zooming around the yard, but the little ones are nowhere to be found.
Did Midge make a snack of them? Did a neighborhood cat happen upon them? Or are they lurking in the dense undergrowth just outside the backyard fence?
Given the species’ natural history, it’s safe to assume any of those scenarios. Ornithologists say only two of five robin nests successfully produce young. Of those, only one in four survives its first year of life.
The species survives by nesting up to three times a year. So now I’m watching the wreath to see if Mama and Papa Robin set up housekeeping again.