Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Steal 299 rare bird skins — for fly tying????

A Baron, tied with imitation chatterer and fruit crow

This week’s Gazette-Mail column takes a look at a little-heralded crime that has sent shock waves through the worldwide community of people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies:

We sportsmen like to think that the pastimes we adore are as pure as wind-driven snow, but then something like this comes along:
A 22-year-old American was arrested earlier this week for the alleged theft of 299 rare bird skins from a British museum. Authorities believe the young man was selling the pelts to people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies.
The news hit me like a cold salmon to the face. You see, I too tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies – fancy Victorian-era patterns tied with brightly colored feathers, tinsels and flosses.
Most of the materials for these flies are easy to come by. Floss is downright cheap. Tinsels are affordable and readily obtained. Many of the staple feathers – dyed turkey, barred wood duck flank, bronze mallard flank and golden pheasant – can be pricey, but are available from any number of legitimate dealers.
Some full-dress patterns, however, call for feathers that are rare, difficult to obtain and absurdly expensive. Feathers from red-ruffed fruit crows, blue chatterers, bustards, toucans and quetzals are prime examples. They’re hard to come by because many of the species are endangered or protected.
There’s a market for these feathers because some tiers like to make their flies “period-accurate,” with materials specified by the Victorian-era anglers who designed them. One 19th-century pattern, for example, calls for two red cock-of-the-rock crest feathers; two light blue chatterer feathers; two light red cock-of-the-rock feathers; two dark blue chatterer feathers and two orange cock-of-the-rock feathers.
Some of those birds are endangered. All of them are protected to some extent. Most of the feathers from those species still available legally were plucked from old taxidermy mounts or Victorian-era ladies’ hats, and routinely sell for $8 to $15 or more per feather.
The young American – Edwin Rist of Claverack, N.Y., a student in London – knew full well the value of the birds he’s accused of stealing from the Natural History Museum at Tring. Rist had been a salmon fly tier since his mid-teens. The flies he tied often contained period-accurate feathers, which he reportedly purchased with money earned by doing odd jobs.
A year ago when the Tring burglary occurred, there was widespread speculation within the salmon fly tying community that some of the stolen bird skins might eventually come up for sale on the Internet.
That’s exactly what occurred. Several red-ruffed fruit crow skins showed up for sale on Rist’s website. Their presence raised eyebrows, but few if any within the community put two and two together until after Rist’s arrest.
It had long been suspected that some of the feathers floating around on the open market had unsavory origins. Without documentation, it was impossible to know whether the feathers were legit, were poached from the wild, or were plucked from stolen museum specimens.
Now those in the fly tying community – me included – are taking a hard look at the zeal with which we once pursued period-accurate feathers. We’re also looking for ways to reduce the financial incentive to traffic in illegally obtained materials.
We’ve already had one success. Five years ago, zoos that raise speckled bustards started providing free molted feathers to interested tiers. The program virtually eliminated the sale of high-priced, illegally obtained bustard plumage.
Might we find something similar for chatterers, crows, toucans, cocks-of-the-rocks and birds of paradise? We hope so.
Until that happens, there are easily obtained and perfectly legal look-alikes for almost all those rare feathers. We need to learn to be content with those.
The app's fish ID feature

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a fish identification/record catch database application for all the iDevices. The International Game Fish Association just made the announcement:

DANIA BEACH, Fla., USA — You’re still reeling from your fish fight and the one you just brought to the boat is definitely your biggest yet – but is it an IGFA World Record?  How will you weigh it, and how will you share the moment with your buddies back on land?
Finally, the IGFA has an iPhone app anglers have been asking for. The IGFA Mobile App will amaze your friends and inspire your fishing adventures with all the knowledge you’ll have at your fingertips. You can quickly identify your catches with stunning full-color images, then search for vacant, pending, and standing IGFA World Records, all from this amazing app.
Even if your fish is a pound shy of a record, this app has plenty of functions for every angler. From planning your next trip to tracking your IGFA Slam Club progress to sharing your catches with family and friends, the IGFA Mobile has you covered.
Check out some of its many features:
  • World Record Database – Want to know how your catch measures up to the world’s greatest? The app is automatically updated with the latest records on over 1100 species when it is opened and connected to a cellular or wi-if connection. Great for comparing what you’ve hooked – or planning to fill a vacant record. It’s an IGFA exclusive.
  • IGFA Species ID – Along with marine artists Diane Rome Peebles’ and Duane Ravers’ incredible full-color images of every record game species, the ID descriptions include extensive reference material from the IGFA including thorough habitat information, geographic distribution and anatomy and it’s only available from the experts at the IGFA.
  • My Catches – Take a photo (iPhone 3Gs or 4) of the monster fish you land, enter the details of your fight and upload to Facebook or email with one easy step. On the iPhone or iPad, GPS functions will automatically record the location of your catches as you log them.
  • Quest List – This is for anglers on a mission. Track your progress towards your next IGFA Weight Club (for bass, snook, or bonefish) or IGFA Slam Club. You can also create your own customizable quest.
  • IGFA Weigh Stations – Do you think your catch is close to the current record? One quick tap and you’ll know how close you are to an official IGFA Weigh Station, with maps to help you get there, and it’s also an IGFA exclusive.
  • Trip Planning List – A successful angler is a prepared angler, and using your list will give you the best shot of having a great day on the water.
  • IGFA Rules – Make sure your catch counts every time. Consult the IGFA International Angling Rules – for both conventional and flyrod – to make sure your next catch won’t be disqualified and it’s only available from the IGFA.

The app carries an introductory price of $8.99. Information is available from the IGFA website.

Hunting deer with spears? Cool!

Throwing with an atlatl

Deer hunters in Missouri will have an interesting choice this fall.

In November, the Show-Me State will become the second state in the Union to allow deer hunting with atlatls, ancient throwing sticks used to hurl fletched, broomstick-length spears called “darts.”

Don’t laugh. Ancient North Americans used atlatl-hurled darts to bring down mastodons and woolly mammoths.

As one might expect, the advent of the atlatl has created quite a buzz. The Columbia Missourian outlines the entire story in a nicely written feature.

I’ve thrown atlatl darts before. With just a flick of the wrist, I was able to send a modern aluminum dart flying more than 250 feet. I’ve had shoulder surgery since then, and my throwing arm is much stronger. It would be fun to give it a try now.

It would take a ton of practice, though, to throw accurately enough with an atlatl to hit an object as small as a deer. Getting within effective range — 25 yards max — would also be difficult. But for primitive-weapons purists who want an ultimate challenge, atlatl hunting would be hard to beat.

Rafters at the Gauley's Pillow Rock Rapids

This post might seem out of place on a blog that primarily deals with hunting, fishing and wildlife, but it struck me pretty close to home.

Two whitewater rafters have drowned in the past few days on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Their deaths confirm that no matter how commercialized an adventure sport gets, there’s still an element of danger.

The body of the first paddler, a woman, was found under an undercut rock in the river’s Iron Curtain Rapids. The body of the second victim, a man, was found in a rocky shoal near Fingernail Rapids.

Both deaths had the earmarks of classic “entrapment” scenarios. Essentially, those occur when an arm or a leg or the paddler’s entire body gets wedged between rocks. The force of the current holds the victim under and he/she drowns.

Entrapment drownings are more of a problem on the Gauley when flows are relatively low. This fall’s flows have been nice and high. I guess this goes to show that even when conditions are perfect, bad stuff can happen.

In my younger days, I greatly enjoyed whitewater canoeing and kayaking. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims’ families.

McClintic storage situation blows up on DNR

A McClintic bunker

First, a World War II-era storage bunker blew up on one of West Virginia’s most popular wildlife management areas.

That happened May 17. After the explosion, we learned that state Division of Natural Resources Officials had been leasing “several of the bunkers” to “private individuals and to companies.”

Then, on June 22, we learned that enough of those bunkers were being leased that the DNR would be forced to close 175 acres of the WMA to future hunting and fishing activities.

And now, just days after the state fire marshal ordered the closure area expanded to 305 acres — nearly one-tenth of the tract’s 3,655 acres — we learn that as many as half a million pounds of explosives are stored on the site. And, according to Deputy Fire Marshal Reed Cook, some of those explosives are unstable.

This begs a couple of questions: Given the pace at which information has trickled out, what else do we not yet know? And given what we might not yet know, how safe can hunters and anglers assume the remainder of the WMA to be?

Just askin’.

A blessing for hunters

"The Vision of St. Eustachius," by Albrecht Durer

Pete Cuffaro, a member of West Virginia’s Natural Resources Commission, e-mailed me recently to let me know about an interesting event — a blessing of outdoorsmen at the church he attends.

The service, scheduled for Sept. 19 at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling, W.Va., is being billed as being “in honor of St. Eustachius, patron of hunters and outdoorsmen.”

If the blessing isn’t enough to attract interested sportsmen and sportswomen, the after-service refreshments ought to be: Chef Rocco Basil will offer a wild game and fish tasting session in the church’s courtyard following the mass.

‘Hooking up’ with a clever new device

A Jay Hook, holding a flintlock rifle

Once in a while you run across something so clever you wonder why you didn’t think of it.

The Jay Hook, for instance. Designed by John Hayes, a primitive-firearms hunter from Minnesota, the Jay Hook is an environmentally responsible alternative to the screw-in hooks hunters use to hang guns, bows and backpacks near their tree stands.

It’s a steel hook attached to a nylon strap, which the hunter secures to a tree by running the strap through a steel spring-buckle and pulling the strap tight. It actually takes longer to read this description than it takes to attach the strap to the tree.

Unlike most accessory hooks, the Jay Hook has a fairly shallow hook that levels off near its end. The unique design allows a bow or a gun to be retrieved quickly, silently and with minimal movement.

The device can hold 35 pounds — plenty for a gun or a fully loaded day pack, but not enough to tempt anyone to use it as a step.

At $14, the Jay Hook is fairly inexpensive. It weighs just a few ounces. And for hunters looking for a way to mount a still camera or video camera nearby, a $19 camera mount — made of anodized aluminum — is available.

Hayes has not yet completed work on a Web site to market the hook. Orders, or requests for more information, can be made via e-mail at jayhookstrapon@gmail.com.

Good on ya, Australia!

Abby Sunderland (AP photo)

Now that teen sailor Abby Sunderland’s boat has been found adrift in the Indian Ocean, it’s time to praise the people responsible for finding it.

Australian maritime authorities didn’t have to send a search plane on a 4,700-mile round trip to search for Sunderland’s disabled vessel, but they did it anyway. They chartered a Qantas Airlines A330 Airbus, one of the few planes with the “legs” for such a long flight. And they didn’t sweat the cost, even though the search extended outside Australia’s search-and-rescue region.

Moreover, the authority doesn’t plan to seek compensation for the flight. “That’s the way the system runs,” search coordinator Mick Kinley told the Associated Press. “It’s our obligation to do this and we’ll fulfill those 0bligations as Australia does.”

As they say Down Under, “Good on ya, mates!”

Its eyes were bigger than its stomach

Chomp, chomp…

If anyone ever doubted that walleyes are serious predators, here’s the proof.

The walleye fingerlings in the accompanying photo were found earlier today when workers at West Virginia’s Apple Grove State Hatchery drained one of their rearing ponds. Hatchery officials had hoped the pond would yield about 10,000 fingerlings, but the long Memorial Day weekend prevented workers from draining the pond as soon as they would have liked.

The delay allowed the fingerlings to grow  just large enough to start practicing their predatory ways — on each other. By the time the pond got drained, an estimated 5,000 of the 10,000 walleyes in the pond had been eaten by their brethren.

Ravenous little buggers, aren’t they?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

Nice try.

That could easily have been the message Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent to a state senator who inserted a special walleye regulation into a game and fish bill headed for Pawlenty’s signature.

The senator, Satveer Chaudhary (D-Fridley) reportedly asked the bill’s House author to insert the provision during a floor debate. Had it gone through, the regulation would have placed stricter creel limits on walleyes in northern Minnesota’s Fish Lake — a lake where Chaudhary happens to own a cabin.

After vetoing the bill, Pawlenty sent it back with a letter that said “this provision may have been improperly inserted.”

Gov. Pawlenty has a knack for understatement.