Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fishing the flood

Ellie and I fished the floodwaters at Holmes Lake here in Lincoln yesterday. It was fun to wet-wade the fishing pier, and as a bonus we had it all to ourselves. The fishing was slow, just one fish each, but mine at least had the charm of novelty: the first walleye I've caught on a fly. It attacked a garishly tinselled woolly bugger variant (Postfly calls it an Olive Leech) and, thanks to the relatively cool water, put up a stout fight.

A toothy critter...

Ellie's one was a pretty black crappie, which I thought went very nicely with her light blue fishing shirt, watch band, and nail polish. A well-coordinated angler, to be sure!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Redear sunfish

Ellie and I were skidding in bluegill after bluegill the other day when this redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus) made an appearance, not far from where we caught a couple last spring.

Redears spend most of their time deep in the water column, where they eat primarily snails and other molluscs, but come shallow to spawn. (At one time I planned to buy or tie some flies to imitate snails, but fortunately redears will take nymphs as well.) Their specialised diet has earned them the nickname "shellcracker" down South, except for Louisiana, where they are "chinquapins".

Friday, May 3, 2019

Bull snake

While out fishing this afternoon, I encountered a good-sized bull snake (Pituophis catenifer sayi). I won't hazard a guess as to length, but I have no problem believing that they can reach 8 feet.

Bull snakes have a well-earned reputation for defensiveness, often mistaken for aggression. This description of bull snake posturing, from Wikipedia, is spot on; today's snake did the whole routine when I got close with my mobile phone, the only camera I had with me:

Owing to its coloration, dorsal pattern, and semikeeled scalation, the bullsnake superficially resembles the western diamondback rattler (Crotalus atrox), which is also common within the same range. The bullsnake capitalizes on this similarity by performing an impressive rattlesnake impression when threatened. First, it hisses, or forcibly exhales through a glottis or extension of the windpipe. The end of the glottis is covered by a piece of cartilage known as the epiglottis which flaps back and forth when air is exhaled from the right lung, producing a convincing rattling sound. It also adopts a rattlesnake-like "S-curve" body posture as though about to strike. It commonly vibrates its tail rapidly in brush or leaves, and flattens its head to resemble the characteristic triangular shape of the rattlesnake. These defensive behaviors are meant to scare away threats, however, and not to sound an attack.

This specimen was on a narrow spit of land between a lake and pond; I'm sure it meant to pillage one or more of the red-winged blackbird nests nearby.

A beauty.

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Good Friday"

This performance is from 2008, but I'm happy to say the Junkies can still bring it. Jessa and I saw them do this one at the City Winery in Atlanta last month. Great show from one of my all-time favourite bands...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Stickball, 1828

Just a quick link to a CNN story on cave writing, in Cherokee syllabary, by the son of its developer, Sequoyah. The topic? Stickball. 


Monday, April 8, 2019

An seabhac

We ended our hawking season right before our trip to Georgia—a bit later than usual, thanks to some late snow—but here are some photos of the hawk (an seabhac in Irish) that Jessa took before we wrapped things up.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Rock Eagle

They don't build 'em like this anymore, either.

Near Eatonton, Georgia is Rock Eagle, the best-known "Indian Mound" in this part of Georgia. There is also a Rock Hawk in the same county (Putnam), and these are considered the only two bird effigy mounds east of the Mississippi River. (There are possibly other effigy mounds in the area, including a Rock Snake, but there is apparently some disagreement on the exact number and configuration of mounds.) Their precise ceremonial purpose is unknown—there is some indication, though little in the way of definitive evidence, that they may have been burial sites—but their very existence and size vouches for an important spiritual significance. The Rock Eagle mound, approximately one to three thousand years old, measures 120 feet from wingtip to wingtip, and 102 feet from head to tail, with its component rocks of quartzite piled eight to ten feet high at the belly.

The observation tower, built by the Civilian Conservations Corps in the 1930s, is interesting in its own right, and with its native-stone and timber construction, made for a good picnic shelter on the quiet weekday of our visit. (Even if some of the tower's denizens did make Jessa a bit nervous.)

Jessa was happy to leave the wasps behind, and we enjoyed photographing wildflowers, herps and actual soaring birds (mostly turkey vultures) outside by the stone effigy.

Apparently the CCC were very serious about using whatever materials were close to hand when working on this project; we saw no fewer than four old millstones used as pavers on the stone path surrounding the eagle mound. "Waste not, want not," I suppose was the mentality...

Friday, March 22, 2019

Elder's Mill Covered Bridge

Elder's Mill Covered Bridge near Watkinsville, Georgia. The bridge was originally built in 1897 to span Call's Creek for a road connecting Athens and Watkinsville, at which point it presumably had a different name, and relocated here to Rose Creek, just upstream from Elder's Mill, in 1924. (Call's Creek is a tributary of the Middle Oconee River; Rose Creek flows into the combined Oconee River below the confluence of the Middle and Upper Oconee.)

Elder's Mill itself, a three-storey wooden frame building, was built circa 1900 and ceased operating in 1941.

Except for some steel guardrails strategically protecting the vertical supports and for the metal roof, the bridge appears to be built entirely of wood, with wooden pegs holding the interior latticework together. The result is strikingly beautiful.

The land through which this stretch of Rose Creek flows is about as pretty as any I've seen, and the creek itself was running clear and cold.

They don't build 'em like this anymore...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Behold another Athens landmark, the double-barrelled cannon. Cast in 1862 at the Athens Steam Company, this was an experimental weapon that ultimately failed, but it's certainly not without interest.

The cannon was the brainchild of John Gilleland, a builder serving in the Mitchell Thunderbolts, a home guard unit of professional men too aged, infirm, or locally indispensable to serve in the regular Confederate armed forces. Closely resembling a 17th-century design by a Florentine gunmaker named Petrini—it's not entirely clear whether Gilleland was aware of the precedent—the cannon was a "chain-shot" gun, designed to fire two cannonballs connected by a length of chain. The gun's barrels diverge by approximately three degrees so that the balls would likewise diverge and stretch the chain taut. (By contrast, the barrels of a double shotgun converge ever so slightly; although the two barrels are not fired simultaneously, the shot patterns of a well-regulated gun cross at approximately forty yards.) The balls with their connecting chain would then "mow down the enemy somewhat as a scythe cuts wheat". So went the theory, at any rate.

The problem for Gilleland's cannon, as it had been for Petrini's, was that of synchrony. The cannon had a touch-hole for each barrel, plus a third, central touch-hole intended to fire both barrels simultaneously. Unfortunately for Gilleland, the mechanism was insufficiently precise. The first time the gun was test-fired, a witness reported, the balls-and-chain rig emerged in "a kind of circular motion, plowed up about an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, mowed down saplings, and the chain broke, the two balls going in different directions." Subsequent tests produced erratic results, most resulting from uncoordinated firing of the two barrels. "When both barrels did happen to explode exactly together," another witness observed, "no chain was found strong enough to hold the balls together in flight." Needless to say, a cannonball with chain attached is going to have an unpredictable trajectory. One shot knocked down a house's chimney with one ball and killed a cow with the other; both chimney and cow were well away from the intended target.

Undeterred by these results, Gilleland sent the cannon off to the arsenal at Augusta for further testing. The Confederate authorities wisely concluded the gun was impractical at best, dangerous to their own troops at worst, and sent it back to Athens, where it was placed in front of City Hall, to be used as a signal gun should the enemy approach.

When the Federals did in fact approach Athens, in August of 1864, Gilleland's gun was sent into action with the Lumpkin Artillery. The barrels were loaded with canister, like an oversized shotgun, and fired independently. The skirmish—the gun's sole combat engagement—ended quickly, with only a few volleys fired, and the cannon was again returned to City Hall.

After the war, the gun was sold, then lost for a number of years, and finally rediscovered and restored to condition. It was then presented to the city of Athens, " has been preserved as an object of curiosity, and where it performed sturdy service for many years in celebrating political victories."

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oconee Forest Park

More trees of historic significance—purely personal significance, in this case. After our visit to TTTOI, we made an early-evening stop at Oconee Forest Park, on the banks of Lake Herrick.

The intramural fields on the opposite side of Lake Herrick are where I first saw and later played toli, but Oconee Forest Park is where I became a falconer. This was my hawking grounds for the two years of my apprenticeship and the one year that followed, before moving out to Nebraska. And I will forever be grateful to the forest manager, who, in recognition of falconry's minimal impact, made this outstanding wood available to me.

The Georgia piedmont doesn't hold many rabbits, and they tend to be found in thick, often impenetrable briars ("cheek cutters" is the local vernacular for the taller stands), so grey squirrels were our quarry. The tiercel redtail I flew during my apprenticeship, Watauga, was a truly brilliant squirrel hawk; his successor (after a couple of false starts with female redtails), Pocomoke, was less gifted but still effective, and transitioned to fox squirrels upon our move west. The grey squirrels Jessa photographed foraging in the treetops in the waning light of evening are the 20x-great-grandchildren of the squirrels we chased back in the day.

It was good to see the population is still thriving. At one point during our walk, I demonstrated a hawking technique Jessa hadn't seen before, "ringing the doorbell": I grasped a stout grapevine that climbed high up a tree to a squirrel drey, gave it a few abrupt pulls, and three squirrels obligingly popped out of the drey. Talley ho, had we a hawk with us. As it was, we saw only a Cooper's hawk nest. (The day before, I actually witnessed a pair of Cooper's mating from the backyard of our rental, but no birds were in evidence here.)

Of course the nest was in a pine—there are lone pines here and there, and even a few stands of pine, but the glory of Oconee Forest Park is in its hardwoods. I remember red oaks, tulip poplars, and sweetgum as the dominant species, but there is a fair bit of diversity here, and since this particular forest hasn't been logged for over a hundred years, some good-sized specimens as well. (Plus a few oddities and a nicely developed understory.)

I feel doubly fortunate to have begun my hawking career in this forest: not only was it beautiful and well-supplied with exciting quarry, but I know that I will always be able to come back and visit. Too many falconers' first fields have been paved over. Long live OFP.