Science and Sarcasm
11 July 2006
Muskegon River fishing report [8 July 2006]

Flygirls on the MoIt was more than a week ago now that B and I hooked up with some of the Flygirls for a group outing on the Muskegon River. The weather was beautiful last Saturday afternoon and I think all Newaygo County residents with a penchant for tubing were enjoying the day floating the river. B and I headed north and arrived in Newaygo just before noon. We found a batch of Flygirls taking a break from fishing in the City Park at the edge of town and chatted with them for a bit before heading toward one of our favorite upstream access spots for a little fishing.

I rigged up my 7-weight spey rod for a little excercise and B chose to employ a 6-weight single-hander. I hiked down to the water first, and before I'd taken 3 casts, was joined by Mandy and Jen heading downstream in their canoe - just like last year. After a brief chat, Mandy and Jen rejoined the floatilla of tubes and canoes and we started swinging streamers and wet flies downstream through this nice section of wide river. We managed to hook a couple of small trout, but nothing more. Not surprising for the middle of a sunny day with hundreds of loud tubers floating through.

We took a break at dinner time and again joined up with the Flygirls for an organized meal at a nearby rental cabin. An ample spread was pulled together and enjoyed by all. After the meal and some conversation, the group headed back to the river to catch the evening hatch. We hoped for a good hatch of Isonychia with maybe a few straggling Hex. Most of us headed for one long stretch of river that typically yields some good evening and nighttime fishing - and it's easy to wade in the dark. We spread out and fished and waited. For some reason that I really don't understand, the evening hatch never really materialized. It wasn't windy, though it was a rather hot day. We caught a few small fish as darkness settled, but no one reported hooking very many nor anything of size. Oh well, such is the nature of nature.

B and I drove home very late, arriving home well after midnight. In the absence of great fishing, we enjoyed the social opportunities afforded by hanging out with some like-minded women anglers. We were very tired, but we made it home without event. On Sunday, in my weekly soccer game, I tore some knee ligaments that'll keep me out of the river and on dry, level land for the near future. I've remember seeing Kelly Galloup on TV with a knee brace over his waders...maybe I can figure out something similar.

Fleece quotient: -3
Lost flies: a couple
Wildlife sightings: belted kingfishers, cedar waxwings, swallows, carp, ~8000 drunken tubers
Air temperature: 90 oF max
Water temperature: ~ 70 oF
Injury report: no leeches, couple of near misses with sinktip spey line.
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Yeah.
Enjoyment grade for the trip: B+

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08 July 2006
Shiawassee River fishing report [4 July 2006]

B with a very nice smallieThe 4th of July was an above-average day for us. We missed out on hot dogs and fireworks, but we did manage to spend some time on a river, fishing rods in hand. B and I and 2 good friends hit the Shiawassee River for a short kayak and canoe paddling trip with lots of stops for excellent smallmouth bass fishing. We decided to fish the same stretch that I'd fished a couple of weekends earlier with Flygirls Mandy and Jen. The river level was still well above average for this time of year, which actually makes for much improved paddling, if not good fishing. We expected that the higher-flowing and stained water would reduce our fish-catching chances, but we were glad we did not have to portage our 3 watercrafts over exposed gravel and stones they way we often do this time of year. Everything's a tradeoff isn't it?

I rigged up my 'kayaking rod' - a 6-7 weight Cabela's fly rod that, while it's a nice enough rod, it's not among my favorites. I don't worry about breaking it as much as I'd worry about damaging my Lamiglas titanium 6-weight or my 9'9" St. Croix 5-weight, my available alternatives. While paddling a canoe or kayak, long fly rods are often poking out of the boat at odd angles and are sharing the boat with paddles, tackle bags and other gear. The risk of rod damage is greater than it is on a wading trip. The boat operator has to split her attentions between navigation/paddling and rod management. Often there is not sufficient time to do both and the fly rod catches on overhead branches or gets stabbed into the bank vegetation. I like to minimize this kind of risk as much as possible, and so I've got a couple of rods that are dedicated to canoe and kayak river trips - the Cabela's 6-7 weight is the best of this category for the type of fishing I expected to do. I chose to use a sinktip line so that I could swing streamers and drift nymphs down near the bottom of the river given the higher-than-average flow. The other 3 anglers in our party all chose to apply spinning gear on this outing. It was all I could do to be seen with them.

WadingWe pushed off in the early afternoon, under a bright cloudless sky, and immediately shared a big deep bend with two swimming Husky dogs. I don't think anyone caught anything here.

We floated downstream lazily, stopping at every deeper, boulder- and ledge-bottomed pool. There are lots of such stretches on this short float. B and my two friends caught a good number of smallies on plastic baits fished deeply. We didn't catch any monsters, but we did catch a lot. The biggest fish was a 14-15-incher caught by B and pictured above. All the smallies caught were beautiful - speckled greenish-bronze and smoothly unblemished. I don't think any of us used any surface baits, figuring that the reduced water clarity would limit their effectiveness. I definitely had less success with my fly rod than the others did with spinning rods. I caught maybe 6 or 7 fish on the day with the largest one around 12-12.5".

Fleece quotient: -2
Lost flies: 3 or 4
Wildlife sightings: bank and cliff swallows, belted kingfishers, cedar waxwings, a muskrat, carp, great blue herons
Air temperature: 85 oF max
Fly gear v. spinning gear controversy: advantage spinning gear
Water temperature: ~ 70 oF
Injury report: no leeches, no injuries.
Did I get to use a spey rod?: Nope.
Enjoyment grade for the trip: A-

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06 July 2006
The wrens have hatched! The wrens have hatched!

6 WrenletsThe cavity in this little feather-lined stick nest is so deep that the only way I can see into it is to poke my camera inside the nestbox and blindly take a photograph. I think I can see 6 little house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) here. I don't know how many eggs there were since I couldn't see into the nest and I never bothered to photograph the evidence. It looks like these little guys probably hatched a day or two ago.

I'm kind of excited about this. We've had numerous wrens build their elaborate stick nests in our nestboxes, but none have ever actually been used. We've always got a few wrens around, they must nest elsewhere. A few have vandalized swallow and bluebird clutches, but I've never found any house wren eggs (or hatchlings) until now.

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05 July 2006
Hidden in plain sight

To celebrate the 1st birthday of the I and the Bird blog carnival, carnival founder Mike of 10,000 Birds issued a request that past participants in IATB write a little bit about why they enjoy birding and blogging about birds. No problemo. For me, this is an easy answer....

Spring birdingReasons I Bird #1 - I was introduced early. As a rural farm kid, I was always interested in animals - both wild and domesticated. Recognizing this, 'Santa' brought me a copy of the Golden Press "Birds of North America" when I was 7 years old. I still have this bird guide, though the cover is partially missing, victimized by some teething cat or dog as I recall. I was fascinated by this book, paging through it endlessly. I memorized the pictures and distribution maps, wingspans and other details. I chose the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) as my favorite because it was the biggest with a 9-foot wingspan. I think some of my bird identification today is still based on stored images from this volume. After receiving the book, I started paying attention to birds at my Gramma's feeder in the winter and to birds seen on cow-retrieval missions down to the pasture along the river and on childhood hikes through the woods. Birds were everywhere. I reached a plateau of sorts though. No one else in my life was interested in birds beyond a casual, backyard relationship. My birding interest remained platonic, minor, wierd for a long time.

Reasons I Bird #2 - Birding can happen anywhere, any time. My birding interest and skills were renewed however, when I met B and we started hiking and fishing and birding together. At last, another person who found these critters fascinating! And she'd memorized the bird guides too! Sweet! I learned a lot in a short period of time. Now, birding is more-or-less integrated into all the other outdoor things I/we do. Birding is occasionally the sole purpose of an outing, but more often than not, it's done together with other activities. I look up to the sky, the treetops and the brush while working in my field research plots; fly fishing affords lots of wetland and riverine birding opportunities, and even backyard time is spent monitoring birdlife. A pair of binoculars is handy and sometimes a bird guide within reach is helpful, but birding requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere.

Reasons I Bird #3 - Bird populations are dynamic and transitory and always changing. No two days spent birding are the same. Even if you return to the same park bench at the same time on consecutive days, you'll likely spot some different birds. Each location and habitat holds different birds and they vary from one season to the next and from one day to the next. I've got new bluebird, sparrow and robin fledglings in my yard almost daily. Some days I catch hawks or an eagle soaring overhead and other days it's cranes and herons. This morning I noticed a titmouse singing energetically from our satellite dish. I hadn't seen a titmouse in a few weeks. We've got a brown thrasher nesting and raising young in our immediate area this year. I've never noticed one before. Spring and fall migration seasons bring birds through my area that do not normally reside here - and these birds don't stay long. I could see a golden eagle or a fox sparrow if I'm lucky.

Reasons I Bird #4 - Birding is a deep subject. I've found that my skills as a birder have changed and improved such that I continue to appreciate the depth, the additional layers and complexity of bird life. I've improved from identifying common backyard birds to spotting and identifying transient, migratory birds to understanding the general category of a bird from just a fleeting glimpse to learning to identify some birds by their songs alone, without ever seeing them. I've become comfortable with birding concepts and lingo - coverts, passerine, buteo, buffy. I've got a long way to go to become a seriously skilled birder, but I like that I can learn more whenever I'm ready to add a new species or bird song or geographic region or some other dimension to my birding arsenal.

Birding also translates into the larger picture of nature, environmental 'quality' and natural resources. It's hard not to appreciate a well-preserved habitat versus a degraded, uncared for area by noticing differences in birds and other wildlife. Attention to birding often leads to learning more about other, related natural science subjects.

Reasons I Bird #5 - Birding is fun to share. Perhaps I'm well on my way to peculiar-old-lady status, but I like to introduce others to birding in small casual ways. I point out birds to the students accompanying me on trips to field sites. B and I call out birds to each other while wading a trout stream or paddling around a lake. My sister's kids are interested because we're interested and we point out interesting tidbits at every opportunity. I look forward to birding together with nieces and nephews in years to come. I think this aspect of birding is probably the reason I like to write about it here on occasion, and also the reason I like to read other blogs that include the subject of birds at least occasionally.

Having said all that, I'm happy to have stumbled upon Mike's invention of I and the Bird and all the wonderful people and their masterful blogs that have come to be associated with it. Happy Birthday IATB! (Nicely done Mike!)

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