Saturday, August 25, 2018

A trio of Southern Appalachian trout flies

The Yellow Hammer, often spelled "Yaller Hammer" or some variation thereof, is the granddaddy of southern trout flies. It's old enough that no one knows its true origins; some speculate that it may have been tied on bone hooks by the Cherokee Indians before the arrival of Europeans. The fly is named for the bird whose feathers were used before the Migratory Bird Treaty Act put such traditional materials off-limits: a yellowhammer is a yellow-shafted flicker, Colaptes auratus auratus. Nowadays dyed feathers from other birds are used. The fly comes in various forms, both wet and dry; this one from Brookings Fly Shop in Cashiers, North Carolina, with its blunt-clipped "hackle" (originally a flicker primary), strongly resembles the original. It's an attractor fly, imitative of nothing in particular but buggy enough in profile, and the flash of yellow seems to entice brook trout readily.

Another fly incorporating yellow, and also appearing in various guises, is the Mr. Rapidan. It is far less ancient and mysterious than the Yellow Hammer, originating in Edinburg, Virginia—close by Shenandoah National Park—in the early 1970s. According to its inventor, whose account can be read here, the yellow on the Mr. Rapidan was incorporated for visibility to the angler; seen from below, the trout's perspective, it imitates some of the brown mayflies found on nearby mountain streams in the early spring.

The final fly in our set is pictured with a couple of its immediate ancestors. On the left is a Royal Coachman, a 19th-century American twist on an older fly of British origin: the Coachman became "royal" with the addition of a band of red floss, intended to enhance durability as well as add colour. At center is the 20th-century Royal Wulff, a bushy fly that floats better than the Coachman in rough water. On the right is the Tennessee Wulff, a variant in which the red floss is replaced with green. The green floss, more subtle than the red, is meant to be suggestive of food items such as inchworms and katydids, while the fly retains its generic mayfly profile.

(Why not a Wulff with yellow floss, you might ask, if brook trout are supposedly drawn to yellow? Why not indeed: that would be a Carolina Wulff.)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Eastern grey squirrels

It occurred to me recently that while Sciurus carolinensis has appeared in several posts on Flyover Country, I'd never actually devoted a post to the eastern grey squirrel specifically—an egregious oversight. Greys were the common squirrel of my Maryland boyhood, and later, in Georgia, my primary quarry for my first three years in falconry.

So we packed our bags and hopped the first flight we could find to the East Coast, pitching up in Washington, where we knew the squirrels would be both abundant and photogenic.

Okay, so that's not exactly how our trip came to pass, but the District of Columbia's squirrels were fantastically cooperative. Enjoy a few of the many photos Jessa and I took in the course of an afternoon's stroll...though, at six miles, I think we can fairly call it a hike.

Tidal Basin

Seven views of the Tidal Basin, from a brief late-July visit to Washington, DC.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Just a cicada

The cherry nose, brown baker, redeye, greengrocer, yellow Monday, whisky drinker, double drummer, and black prince are all species of Australian cicada. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

I usually consider myself a halfway-decent naturalist, but "an annual cicada" is about as far as I can go for this Nebraska specimen photographed by Jessica. Hey, at least I don't call it a locust.

A few midsummer wildflowers

Close to home, in rural Lancaster County, I'm accustomed to seeing hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) at busy gravel-road junctions, covered in a layer of fine silty dust. So it was refreshing to find these populations in Antelope County, all fresh and clean, a wildflower. Jessica and I don't grow this in our prairie garden, but I think we're going to start.

With grey-headed coneflower, Ratibida columnifera.

Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta.

Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.