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Man's Best Friend

Okay, so here I am typing when I should be in bed taking a nap, trying to get that last hour of sleep before I have to start getting ready for a midnight shift.  But a thought occurred to me, as I lay in bed, the dog snuggled up against my side.  A question that intrigues me, piquing my interest, and so, as I am prone to do, I will share with UJ, and see if perhaps it’s only me, or if others have wondered the same thing.

First and foremost, I will apologize to the women, as it is mostly a question, pertaining to a legendary phrase, and the fact that as a man, I’m not sure how a woman would answer this question.  I know there are several women handlers here, and your interest is solicited too, as I by no means am trying to exclude you, but it is in reference to a phrase, perpetuated throughout many years, dealing mostly with men.  So, hoping that the women take no offense:  What is it, that makes a dog, man’s best friend?

What is it about a dog, that draws you to them?  Not as yard decorations, not as status symbols, but as a part of your life you can’t imagine yourself without.  How is it that we humans, have earned the love and respect of our K-9 friends, when they are, in many ways superior to us?  This occurred to me, as I was trying to sleep, the dog stretched out beside me.  Of course the phrase, is attributed to George Graham Vest, when he argued the case for the wrongful death of “Old Drum”, but it seems right on the money.  I’ve got cats, that while I enjoy petting them on occasion, they aren’t  dogs.  This summer I did some training with horses, and I’ll have to admit, I’d rather train dogs, any day of the week.  Hell, truth be known, I’d choose the company of my dog over the company of several people with whom I’m an acquaintance. But, what is it that endears a dog to us.  I love my wife, my family and my friends, implicitly without question, and it is a love that is bonding and unquestionable.  But there is something about the addition of a dog in your life that seems to compliment your being and presence.

Perhaps it stems from being a hunter.  The fact that the dog completes the image of a man with all his faculties.  Almost like the inseparable duo, between the intelligence of both man and K-9 beast, the skills of both combined as hunters, and the bond and understanding between them, they are a fully self sustainable pair.  How was it, that thousands of years ago, when the caveman adopted and domesticated the dog, that between that forging based on needs of the both of them, we have found a bond that has truly stood the test of time?  Both found that living was easier, and perhaps more enjoyable by each other’s presence.

This is not to say that every single man I’ve met has a bond with a dog such as most of us understand.  As I stated in another post earlier this week, there are few that put up with the hair in the house, on the clothes or in the truck, the dirty paw prints all over the house.  The money invested in taking care of your pal, from vet visits, to every day housing and food.  And yet, there are those of us, like minded folks, that while to some it would simply be an unbearable chore, we take enjoyment from it.  What is it about these furry critters that is so damn appealing?

Is it the fact that that the warm lick of a hand when you come home, the tail thumping, feet stomping unabashed excitement of your presence makes us realize that no matter what we encounter throughout the day, this one single creature will always be happy to see us?  Is it the uncanny ability of these dogs to detect our moods, even potential health problems, and even when we aren’t quite up to being worthy of it, they do their best to comfort us, and stay beside us?  Is it knowing that when you go to sleep at night, though they may not be watch dogs per se, they often will alert you to something out of the ordinary, that they are the constant guard by which you may often times rely?  Is it our wonder at them being able to detect the tiniest scent molecules, that allow us to extort their abilities, in a pastime, that is no longer necessary for survival, but more as a need, a want to practice the timeless instincts of hunting, passed down to us from generations before?  Is it the ability to spend time with a creature, who is simply so amazing, that they are often times beyond explanation, only to say that our life would not be complete without them?  

I have no real answers, other to say to my above list of questions, that I could answer yes to each one, and still add a “but, there is something else”, without ever being able to qualify that statement further.  I’m not sure, but I have to admit, there are times, when that little tri-color Brittany of mine, simply amazes me, making me contemplate aspects and thing s that I’d never given thought to before.  The only answer I can come up with is this, I’m not sure why he’s my best friend, but I’m damn sure glad he is, after all, what else is there to say?

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For the first time that I can remember in my 11-year hunting career, I am truly sad that a season is over.  When I loaded my kayak into my truck after hunting this morning, it symbolized the end of the most satisfying waterfowl season I have ever experienced, a feat that I should celebrate, but instead find myself mourning.  I have always hunted waterfowl, but this year I became a waterfowl hunter.  This has everything to do with the fact that for the first time in my life I find myself away from my home turf in central Wisconsin, in new territory to be explored and enjoyed.  In September I moved to Rhode Island to pursue a masters degree in Wildlife Ecology studying ruffed grouse.  The Ocean State is, as one would expect, full of water.  And as one would also expect, a state filled with water is also filled with waterfowl.  

And so I went duck hunting.  A lot.  Every chance I got.  I sacrificed sleep for many days on end just to get myself on the water before the sun rose. All told I hunted better than half of the 60 days open throughout Rhode Island’s 3 seasons.  If it hadn’t been for the two weeks I missed while back home in Wisconsin for the holidays, I would likely have hunted 2 days for every 3 available to me.  

In an effort to cheer myself up, I am going to try and remember the high points and good memories of the season, rather than dwell on the fact that it is past.  I found a new hunting partner in my officemate Kris.  Kris had never hunted before, but had taken a hunter safety course as a requirement to carry a gun for polar bear protection during his summer job in the Arctic Circle, where he chases snow geese around the tundra.  He is also an accomplished saltwater fisherman, and in exchange for introducing me to that sport, I agreed to show him how to hunt, at least as best as I could.  He took it up with an enthusiasm I did not expect, and there were few days I found myself on the water without his company.


As you might imagine, some days were better than others.  Some days the weather cooperated.  Wind, snow, cold, and lots of ducks in the air.  We had some snowy mornings in early December that were nothing short of magical.


Other days, the sun shone bright, and the sky was vacant, with the exception of the ever-present sea gulls.  The month of January seemed to give us more days like this than not, but we went anyway.


I don’t like to dwell on numbers, even though I shot more birds this season than in any previous.  What I do enjoy is celebrating each bird, and treating them as individual accomplishments. The wood ducks are beautiful, and each drake mallard is deeply satisfying, but it is the unique birds that I really enjoy.  This season I was lucky enough to harvest four species of waterfowl that I never even had the opportunity to shoot at before, some of which I had never even seen before.

For me American black duck have come to symbolize coastal New England.  These were traditionally the most common breeding waterfowl on the Atlantic Coast. We have very few black duck in Wisconsin, especially where I am from.  I decided to get this one (my first) mounted.  Some question this as strange, given the black duck’s abundance and plain appearance, but I find their subtle beauty captivating.  


Atlantic brant are somewhat of an enigma.  Nearly extirpated from Rhode Island by the loss of their preferred food, eelgrass, brant have made a huge comeback in the state by switching their diets to different plant species, and now they winter in the state by the thousands.  These are not your typical goose.  About the size of a mallard, they fly low to the water in large, tight flocks, wingtips almost touching, emitting a chattering, almost comical call.  A flock of 50 brant setting into the decoys will make even the most seasoned veteran shake in his waders.  This rookie nearly soiled his when it happened to him.


Bufflehead are such a beautiful duck, happily swimming and diving in small groups, then turning to absolute missiles when air born.  They are the blue-winged teal of the coast, and I sent many a load of #2’s through the air that would eventually splash down harmlessly in an effort to bring them to hand.  Still, I was lucky enough to down two, including this picture perfect drake.  


This pintail, although not in full plumage, was probably the high point of my season.  They are not common where I come from, nor are they here, but by good graces he fell to my 870.  I feel fortunate, as pintail numbers are continuing to dwindle with no obvious explanation why.  I just hope that my first wasn’t also my last.


And finally, I truly discovered Narragansett Bay.  It is a soothing place.  One of those places that cause you to forget almost anything that is weighing on your mind the moment you take your first step into it.  A kind of place that lets you live in the moment.  Hunters are a fortunate lot, because being a hunter lends itself to discovering thess kinds of places.


My 2005-2006 hunting season is now over.  The kayak will be put away till spring, the decoys stored, and the 870 disassembled for some well-deserved restoration to repair some of the saltwater damage.  Try as I might I can’t really put into words the reason I am feeling the way I am right now.  I think it may have something to do with the fact that hunting represents something very familiar to a Wisconsin boy who has found himself in an unfamiliar place, and now I am forced to abandon that familiar feeling.  No more early mornings laying on a sand bar waiting for the sun to get on with things.  No more straining my eyes, trying desperately to turn the sea gull on the horizon into a duck.  No more elation at the solid splash of a bird hitting the water, and no more disappointment when it does not.

The rest of the winter will pass, school will put strains on my free time, and before I know it the turkeys will be gobbling and the striped bass will return, and duck hunting will be the last thing on my mind.  But for now I think I’ll just be sad.



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Ken M. Blomberg

    The North Dakota prairie is an easy place to ponder.  It was there, while hunting pheasants and sharptails a few years ago, that I learned a couple of valuable lessons on giving and taking.

    Gazing north, I could see the sky over Saskatchewan and a cloud of dust from an approaching vehicle.  The rusty old pickup truck came to a halt just as an old man in the passenger seat rolled down his window.

    “How’s the hunting?” he inquired.  “Finding any birds?”

    I shared the story of our successful morning hunt and pointed towards the silhouettes of two others from our group on the horizon.  I explained that they were working towards the next road, while I was retrieving our truck.

    The old man was more interested in where we were from and how we were enjoying our hunt.  After I described the hunting party, including two wildlife biologists and a preacher, he matter-of-factly responded,  “I’m just a farmer.”

    “Just a farmer?” I thought to myself.  He seemed almost apologetic.

    Before going our separate ways, we talked a bit about North Dakota’s generous trespass laws – un-posted lands open to hunters – and bird dogs.  I made a point of thanking him for the use of his land.  

    “Glad to share, you out-of-state hunters are good for the local economy.  Good luck to you all.”

    As I watched the truck disappear in its own dust, I contemplated his words.  Did he realize what his generosity meant to a hunter like me?  Traveling to a land of plenty – turning loose the bird dogs on an endless sea of grassland – and harvesting a bounty of birds on unposted private land.  A dream come true.  His kindness was truly a gift.

    Later, when back in my home state of Wisconsin, the prairie experience reminded of something I’d taken for granted for years.  A neighboring landowner, Dave, had shared with my family access to his land for hunting, hiking and dog training.  A small sawmill north of our place provided a livelihood for his family.  Through good times and bad, he always carried a big smile and a cheerful greeting.  He also graciously shared the gift of his land.  

    Two winters ago, he clear-cut about a third of a forty-acre parcel south of us, adjacent to one of our woodcock singing grounds.  The resulting regenerated aspen stand will become prime nesting cover for local female woodcock and provide a backdrop for a male grouse that set up shop on a drumming log along our creek near the fence line.

    Tragically, my good friend and neighbor was killed in a head-on traffic accident last year.  But his property remains in the hands of family and the clear-cut will stand as a memorial to his life, his land and his generosity - the greatest gift of all.

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RookieEP got me to reading the archives and I have spent most of my spare time today reading them.  I've laughed pretty hard but I've more often had something in my eye, especially when the "old days" and old dogs are discussed.  We old codgers get that way.

   What this is leading up to is that I think the reason I get choked up is that I am reminded of the dogs I have owned or been owned by.  I have one dog in particular I think about almost every day of my life.  Skeet has been much on my mind as I train my first puppy in many years.  As a matter of fact if I am totally honest he is most of the reason I haven't had a dog for twenty-five or so years.  The old saying that a man is entitled to one great woman and one great dog may not be true but I've had lots of good dogs and one great one.  I'd get in trouble if I didn't also say that I've still got my one great woman and because she might read this we'll not discuss the good ones.  I have a feeling most of you who have been hunting for a good many years have probably had a special dog or two and I'd like to hear about them so I'll lead off with a short story about Skeet but in return I'd like to hear about your special dog and though we love them all I'm betting everyone has one.


   I was fortunate in my young days to own some pretty good "gun dogs"(actually my dad owned most of them but from an early age I hunted them too and considered them mine).  All the dogs were special each in its own way and I have moments of remembering each one but "Skeet" was my lifetime dog.  He came from what would today be called line breeding but at that time was an accident, his father was also his uncle.  I knew and had hunted behind both his dam and sire as they belonged to a friend and he offered me a puppy.  Actually, he offerd them to anyone who would take one because he was convinced they would be dumb or crazy and several of them were but that may have been due to their owners(we won't go there).  Skeet wasn't a registered dog but, heck no one needed papers.  We new the family history of the dogs back several generatons anyway.

   I was then and still am one who thinks that bird dogs are born and not made.  We can give them some manners but God gives them the nose, instincts and bird sense.  Skeet didn't have a great nose but he had the greatest instincts and the most bird sense and just plain sense of any dog I have ever owned or hunted with and if I am prejudiced I hope you will forgive that and I hope you feel the same way about your lifetime dog. He certainly made me look like a better trainer and hunter than I am. Skeet had an unerring sense about where a bird would be and wasted little time running in unproductive areas.  He overcame his nose with absolute hustle and that great bird sense.   I had to keep a close eye on him especially early in the season or I really believe he would have run himself to death.

   I saw the old boy do some truly remarkable things and we could almost communnicate or rather he could get his point across to me.  Especially when I did something he thought was dumb or screwed up he had a look he would give.  If I took too long to get to his point and the birds had moved away he would slowly turn his head around as we approached with a look that said,"about dang time you got your sorry self here"   The only thing I always wanted to train him to do was to pee on the leg of whoever missed an easy shot.  So long as it wasn't me of course.                                                  

    We hunted some great country with nice wide fencerows and fields left fallow and he could pick the very corner or patch the birds would use.  Anything forty acres or under where we could see we just put him through the gate and waited while he covered it with that big loping stride.  Only if he jumped the fence or got out of sight for a few minutes would we go to him cuse nine times out of ten he had 'em.  We had a few years where we hunted some clear cut areas that had been replanted.  They were too thick to walk but there was worlds of food for quail and worlds of birds so we hunted down the miles of roads letting him run from the truck.  I had another dog and sometimes hunted with friends who had dogs but there was no need to put another down because the dog just ran the road until they struck scent and no dog was gonna run ahead of Skeet, none could but I think he would have fought one that managed to do it.  Anyway, he'd get way out ahead of the truck and we'd see where he skidded on brakes in the sand and went into the woods so we'd know he was out there pointed.  That's one of the situations where it would sometimes take us a while to find him and we'd get that look.  The really remarkable thing he learned to do though was that if we missed him and went by he learned that we'd be back when we realized it and found a place to turn around so he would leave the point, come to the road, give us that look and go back to the birds.  I know it sounds like a lie but it happened four or five times over the years so I believe there is no way it was coincidence that as soon as we got close enough on our return trip that he knew we had seen him he would go back in the woods and then when we followed him we would find him on point.  He seemed to manage to point birds so that they were pushed away from where they would most likely want to go, if there was a swamp close by he always seemed to be between them and the swamp.  They would still probably head for the swamp but they would usually have to detour a little giving the hunter a little more time for a shot.  More than once, when he was backing another dog on a running bird or covey, he would break off his point, make a wide circle and cut the bird off so he would be pinned between the two dogs.  Folks say dogs don't think but I'm convinced they do and when it comes to birds we need to leave them alone more.  I realize that in some circles some of the things he did would be regarded as heresy but all we were interested in was what got the job done the best and he showed us time and time again that if we would just shut up, get out of the way and maybe hit something once in a while we could leave the skilled work up to him.

   Once we were hunting a big pine flat when Skeet locked up on point, flagged a little then turned and left.  We shoulda known something wasn't right.  Anyway, along comes Jack and he locks up tight.  Well my partner that day wasn't any smarter than I was so we waded in and went to kicking.  Have you ever heard the sound a six foot rattlesnake makes when he suddenly coils?  You can hear the meaty sound his body makes as it slaps against itself as he coils and there's no sound like that angry rattle.  Jack jumped in panic, almost knocked my partner down onto the snake, my partner couldn't see the snake and I couldn't shoot or I'd have blown his legs off.  Finally(about two seconds) I  moved so I could shoot without hitting him.  When it was over, there was Skeet with that look again.  You think I'm joking about the look but it was consistently there when I had screwed up.  Kind of a lopsided grin.

   He had his faults but they were few.  Skeet was mainly a covey dog due to his hard running and even though I say he didn't have a great nose he always had his head high scenting the wind and found some coveys from amazing distances. I think he hated to ground scent and because of that he wasn't the greatest singles dog but we had other dogs for those.  Another fault but it was always funny to me was that when another dog began finding singles Skeet would back nicely the first time, he would even back the second time but if that dog found another single and Skeet hadn't found one you better watch to see which direction he headed because he was going to look for another covey he'd honored that sucker enough for one day.  Chances are when you followed him up he'd have another covey pointed.  Skeet was an escape artist and if he got out of his pen or if I had let him out and turned my back he was gone in a flash and might be gone up to three days hunting on his own or with Jack or Pepper if they would abscond with him.  Because of this, he would usually bust and chase the first covey of the season.  I'd call him in, get me a switch and hit him unmercifully(rigghht) at least twice and scold him good.  He'd never flush a bird intentionally the rest of the season but he'd do that every year.  His last year he did it again and I called him back that time and told him he was too dang old to be showing his butt like that and too old for me to whip so don't do it again.  He didn't.                                                                            

   He was a one man dog or rather a one family dog and while he was a gentle, friendly soul if he barked, especially at night it was time to pick up the gun and light and go see who or what was around but it didn't matter who showed up with a gun and a truck Skeet would be jumping at the tailgate ready to go.  I was always afraid someone would steal him because he was known fairly well in our little community and I had a young family that didn't need me in jail.

   He also could almost know we were going hunting before I did, if I got up earlier that usual I would hear his jumping against the gate of his pen..BAM....BAM....BAM.  I replaced that gate more than once in his lifetime and replaced the hardware even more often.  If I picked up a pair of briar pants he would go nuts, jumping about four feet in the air, barking, spinning in circles and I swear a big smile on his face.  Don't even think about showing him a shotgun unless you were going to take him hunting or he'd bug you the rest of the day and sulk for several.  My wife spanked him once while I was gone and he was mad at her for a week.  It was ok for me to get on him but she wasn't supposed to.  He'd obey her but she wasn't supposed to scold him in his opinion.

   Skeet has been gone these many years and I could never tell all about him and I've spent about three hours typing and retyping  to get this halfway right and I'm gonna sit here a while before I hit that final button and I'm a little reluctant to so if you're reading this--I did.  

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"A Place We Call Reality"


Ken M. Blomberg

      It’s a fine spot to live, this place we call “Reality”.    Our home, the land and the creek lie along the Wisconsin River valley.  The house was built and occupied before the Great Depression and our family has called it home since the late seventies.  In that house, the “boss” and I have raised a pair of boys, a kennel full of bird dogs and a wide variety of other critters.  

    The “boss” inherited her piece of “Reality” after we married and at the time, the thought of living in a four-room bungalow, thirty miles from the school at which she taught wasn't high on her list of priorities.  On top of that, she had to share her new home with three bird dogs.  Today, she assures me that living in the country suits her just fine -  after all, if she weren’t here, who would feed her birds?

    The creek is the lifeblood of the land.  Before the land was settled it served to control the water table, which it continues to do.  It bisects our property after draining the neighbor’s woods and farm field.  Three-quarters of a mile in length, it feeds a backwater slough that eventually empties into the Wisconsin River.

    We share our space with a variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, turkey, bear, fisher, grouse, woodcock, rabbit, squirrel, as well as non-game song birds, owls, hawks and bald eagles.  It was a bald eagle that clinched the deal a couple of decades ago, as I was looking over the neighborhood and the house.   It was along River Road that I spotted that majestic bird soaring above the river valley.  I called the realtor and told her to close the deal on the fifty year-old cheese maker's house that very same day.

    Over the years, our kennel has housed scores of bird dogs, including breeding stock, dogs and puppies for sale, boarders and those to be trained.  German Shorthaired Pointer has been our breed of choice, after falling in love with the first true bird dog I owned, "Buck".   He came to me from a small game farm near Shawano named Kentwood and taught me more about hunting game birds than I taught him about being a good bird dog.  He stayed with us for two months and fourteen days short of 16 years.

    Buck's buried down by the creek, but his ghost still runs in the uplands behind the house.   The shorthairs we own today are related to Buck, whose blood runs through their veins.  The bloodlines of our bird dogs own the name of our township and a nearby river, called Eau Pleine.  While many dogs from the past are buried along the creek, a new generation fills the kennel today.

    This is an ongoing story of our life, the land, the creek and the thoughts that come to mind as we share a place we call "Reality".

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“Up the Creek”


Ken M. Blomberg

      The dead of winter.  I always thought it was a phrase coined by some northern, snowbound pioneer dealing with cabin fever.  Who among us doesn’t become more irritable and anxious after being stuck indoors during the winter months?

    According to someone much smarter than me, the origin and spiritual significance of the expression “dead of winter”, has ties to the Christmas tree.  It turns out that winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere brought on the practice of bringing greenery into dwellings to signify life in the dead of winter.  Evergreens like spruce, scotch and white pines found their ways into our homes over the holiday seasons and after being decorated with ornaments, seemed to brighten our snowbound existence.

    We cut a tree each year from along our creek for Christmas right after deer season.  This year’s spruce was about eight-years old; one I planted a bit too close to its relatives.  It was a bit stunted, but at seven feet tall, it fit well into a corner of our home just fine.  And when the decorations came off just before the New Year, it was placed outside, next to our bird feeders.  Our winter flock of birds seems to enjoy the added cover it provides as they free load at our feeding station.

    Whenever snow arrives as early as Thanksgiving, the season between autumn and spring seems to drag on forever.  Since that’s the case this time around the sun, it’s been a long, drawn-out winter.   With little more than eight hours of light in the day by winter solstice, this past December 21st at 6:30 pm, people tended to get a bit stir crazy.

    A winter drive along the Wisconsin River Valley upstream, or down, will reveal not everyone is stuck indoors.  Ice shanties dot the frozen lakes and numerous river backwaters.  Skiers flock to Granite peak at Rib Mountain, or trails at Nine-Mile and Standing Rocks.  Birdwatchers, strapped to their binoculars, are keeping tabs on their flocks across the counties.  Snowmobiles traverse many miles of trails that criss-cross the landscape.  Late winter hunters and their dogs pushed the marshes and clear-cuts for bunnies, grouse and coyotes at Mead, Dewey and Buena Vista.  Cabin fever relief is in reach and available for those who look.

    Slowly, but surely, the days lengthened and got brighter.  Spring is here and knocks at our doorstep.  I heard a woodcock singing out back last night.  The bird dogs in the kennel are anxious to run, now that the fields are losing their blanket of snow.  The ones in the house know something will change real soon.

    Hang in there.  It’s officially spring on the calendar, but there’s still two feet of snow an hour north of us.  Get outside and enjoy the what’s left of winter before it becomes a memory.

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274 Acres of my Heart for Sale

The other day I saw the sign

This thing called progress grows

like a terrible big vine

I can see the houses, rows upon rows

Some moonless foggy night

When no one is aroun'

My truck will pull with all it's might

and rip that d#mned sign down

:angry:  :devil:

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Ken M. Blomberg

    “The drama of the sky dance is enacted nightly on hundreds of farms, the owners of which sigh for entertainment, but harbor the illusion that it is to be sought in theaters.  They live on the land, but not by the land.”*  

    We never saw him enter the singing ground.   Arriving undetected, a nasal “peent” is what gave him away.  It was my seven-year-old son Erik, who heard the male woodcock first.

    “Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter.  Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky.  Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy.”*

    The woodcock danced for us twice before it flew into a mist net set strategically in its flight path.  Together, we ran to the net from our hiding place in the brush and while I slowly untangled the bird from the nylon netting, my young son watched intently.  Once freed, a small aluminum band was placed on his leg, followed by measurements of its beak and outer primary feathers.  As I finished the necessary banding duties, Erik patiently waited by my side, knowing the best was yet to come.  Cradled in his hands, he gently kissed the bird’s forehead, pointed it away from the net and released it into the twilight.

    “To band a bird is to hold a ticket in a great lottery.”*

    That was nearly seventeen years ago.  In the early seventies, as a freshman natural resources student at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP), I was introduced to “A Sand County Almanac”.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but several of Aldo Leopold’s essays were influencing my life forever.

    Not one to read books from cover to cover, I skipped right to the October chapter and followed the author and his bird dog from “one red lantern to another.”   I learned,  “There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed grouse hunting” and after reflecting on his description of a good partridge dog, I was hooked.  

    Turning back to the Almanac’s spring passages, I zeroed in on Leopold’s description of the American woodcock’s “Sky Dance”.   The essay eloquently described the courtship display, and left this reader with several unanswered questions.  How long does the male display during the nesting period?  Is the male’s musical twitter in flight vocal, or mechanical?  Are the males polygamists?   If there’s two birds on the singing ground, is the second a female, or a rival male?   Leopold’s habit of asking his readers questions, worked on me.  The spell was cast.

    These questions and a need to know more, led me on a lifetime love affair with the bird and the natural world it inhabited.   After graduating, I began a career in water resources, free-lance writing and raising bird dogs.  I joined several conservation organizations, volunteered to run woodcock singing-ground surveys and obtained my federal bird-banding license with the sole purpose of banding woodcock.  

    Mist netting male woodcock on their singing grounds and capturing hens and their chicks with my German Shorthaired Pointers transported me into a world few people know - and in the process, discovered the bird’s world and mine weren’t very far apart.  In the field behind our house, males and females were courting each spring.  In early May, hens walked their chicks within a stone’s throw of our bird dog kennels.  Each fall, at dusk, birds flew above the alders bordering the edge of our woods.  The sky dancer was helping me “live by the land”.

    One fall, a hunter in central Louisiana reported shooting a banded male mist netted near our home earlier that spring.  Another was recovered in a neighbor’s garden, an apparent victim of a cat.  I had banded it as a chick the previous spring a quarter mile from the garden.  Several others fell to the gun in central Wisconsin.  Last spring, Erik and I banded a peenting male in the field behind the house.  Seven months later, it was shot near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

    On a very special weekend a few years back I visited the Leopold “Shack”, made famous in the Almanac and the spell cast over me three decades ago was rekindled.  The 7th Annual Leopold Education Project (LEP) National Workshop was scheduled an hour and a half travel time downstream from my home along the Wisconsin River.  A Pheasants Forever web link led me to an intriguing agenda, which included presentations by nationally recognized authors, biographers and ecologists with insights into Aldo Leopold’s philosophies.  I was not disappointed.

    I learned more than space permits from the LEP weekend workshop, but three things I must share.

    My son Erik, is now enrolled at the University of Rhode Island, earning his masters degree in wildlife management.  As an undergraduate, he spent his summers trapping, banding and radio-tagging woodcock with graduate student Jed Meunier.  That weekend, I learned, quite by accident, that Jed is the great-grandson of Aldo Leopold.

    I also learned, that when nobody’s looking, Erik still gently kisses banded woodcock farewell when released.

    And finally, after more than thirty years, I learned just how much I’ve been inspired by Leopold’s sky dancers.

*Quotes from Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac".

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Just Who I Am

There is within each and every human being, placed upon this earth a sense of individualism.  A trait so specific to that person, that no form of oppression is able to squash it’s existence.  Deep within every single, man, woman and child, lie hopes, dreams and ideas that make up the very essence of who they are.  For millennia, there have been those persons that have, by their own ways and bidding, demanded conformity amongst their populace.  An attempt to melt and meld the very souls and hearts of these individuals to an idea or ideal by which they would be judged and valued.  And yet, the thing never conquered, be it by dictatorship or armies has been the indomitable human spirit.  The bodies of men may be bent and broken, but the very spirit of such people can not be ruled nor contained.

In this current age, where there is at times, an uncertain urgency, to melt and blend with those surrounding us, a seemingly, never ending desire to belong to a certain group or idea.  Yet there are those that refuse to be corralled.  I do not speak of those hell bent on anarchy, for such a practice is not only impractical, but unattainable solely because of the natural traits of human beings as a whole.  Rather, I speak of those persons that have the conviction to speak their mind, with tact and honesty.  Those who do not fear the social repercussions of having an opinion.  People that speak with their heart, guided by their consciousness who refuse to apologize for such things.  Men and women that might disagree with an idea or concept, but are still capable of factoring in an understanding and tolerance, without converting or adjusting their persona.  They are those that understand that the rules and laws of their perspective countries are measures in place to maintain order, which are hopefully chosen and enacted based upon their genuine moral traits.  We, here in the United States, are blessed to be citizens of a republic, whose forefathers bore a great responsibility and hardship, writing, framing, directing, fighting and dying for a cause whose general principals were as old as human beings themselves, but whose practical applications were earth shattering and new.

It is with some trepidation that I look forward to the future, now as then, there are circumstances and groups that request and demand that unity and conformity become the status quo.  That we as a people should apologize for being an individual person, with thoughts, ideas and feelings, which are all our own.  In a technological age, where we are bombarded with meaningless drivel on a consistent basis, and are told to accept ideas and knowledge solely at their face value based on so called facts and figures that are rarely researched, substantiated, nor replicated, many times based on mere theory not fact; I fear that the coming generations will fail to realize what a dangerous precept it would be to stand on should they embrace some of the ideals that are made popular today by so called “society”.  

I shall always hold those with an opinion in higher regard than those that refuse to give one, although I might not always agree with it.  I will continue to value honor and truth as the worth of a human being, regardless of any other qualifying factor.  And I will continue to believe that hopes and dreams are attainable by any and all those that fight the odds and work toward their goal.  One of the most enjoyable things about living in the United States today, is the ability of one person to hold an opinion contrary to the “popular belief” without fear of legal repercussion.  To be afforded the opportunity to speak their mind, in a mannerly and civil manner and politely debate differing viewpoints with those from the other side.  

If one were to believe the popular literature and media of today such archaic thinking, while quaint, is impractical in today’s society and is a benchmark of the naïve and uneducated.  Barbaric though it might be I cannot help but feel that at some time, future generations will look back upon these days and reflect upon these times that we live and speak highly of decisions made by persons that needed to make them at the time.  One can only hope such an optimistic dream is plausible for future generations.  

As for my part I feel it is my duty, when the time comes that my children are ready, that I will teach them to think through every situation, let their morals and values guide them, examine the benefits and consequences of every action, and then and only then make an educated decision.  I shall insist that they disregard popular opinion and learn to look at the situations, inform themselves on items they have no knowledge of, and base their opinions on the best set of facts available.  But perhaps most of all, I will hope and pray, when those facts are unavailable, that they shall learn to listen to their heat, heed their innate sense of individualism and when required fall back upon that gut instinct which is nearly infallible when listened to carefully.  May they be blessed in knowing that a true person is a person of action, who tries to right what wrongs they may, and that the values of self confidence and self discovery, coupled with integrity and tenacity, are the links that bind them to their ancestors and future generations.    May they be blessed irregardless of the experimental dabbling society attempts to do  upon them, that the indomitable spirit of individualism and the honor of good and righteous, basic human traits, prevail.

Copyright 2006

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A flock of geese fly

high up overhead

I cannot help but sigh

wondering what they said

Going north, in a great big "V"

To the land of the four fleur d'elise.

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The Saga of Spot

I was out workin’ in the yard one day; well I wasn’t workin’ but the dogs were supposed to be workin’. Okay, one dog, my Springer Chance, was supposed to be doing some retrieves. Had me a bumper out there and I’d throw it, then Chance would look at me, yawn, so then I’d go out and fetch it, call her over, ask her kindly to sit down (That’s ‘Hup’ in Spanielese), then I’d wind up and heave it loose again. Son of a gun, once in a bit she’d actually run out there and act like she was going to retrieve. Wait a minute, she ain’t supposed to do that unless I tell her to. Okay pup, come back here. No, bring the flippin’ bumper with ya. Okay, I’ll just walk out and get the bumper again myself, give it a swing…. Shit, right up on the roof. Ain’t no way she’ll get this one, even if she was inclined. Okay, on second thought maybe it was me a workin’ in the yard, but the dog kinda enjoyed watching me retrieve.

So anyways, we’re out there a havin’ some training fun and I hear the beagles cut loose. Now they’re confined by a perimeter electric fence. One of those that’s buried and they wear a collar and the fence tells the collar and thereby the dog when it’s too close to the buried wire? Well, when something gets the beagles attention they like to go out there and test that system. They’ll bounce around yappin’ and bayin’ until they get too close to the wire and then, bang!, one or the other of ‘em’ll let out a yelp that tells me the fence is workin’ just fine. But they keep testin’ it, the whole sequence sounding something like, “Arf, arf, bark, YOWP!, yip, yip. Arf, bark, howl, bark, YOWP!, yip, yip, yip.” And it just goes on and on until whatever is the offensive subject of their scrutiny is gone or I get tired of fence testin’ and go out and put them in the kennel. In which case they stand and do the same thing but in the kennel. Without the ‘YOWP!’ of course ‘cause the fence has already been thoroughly tested.

Where the hell was I? Oh yeah. So the beagles are carryin’ on something fierce, lookin’ down the lane towards the road, making their voices heard to the high heavens, and telling me that there’s somethin’ out there. Now this happens a lot. A delivery truck rolls down the road, or a tractor or a combine, or there’s one neighbor up the road that him and his wife both jog, and they get preferential treatment from the beagles with extra carryings on. Now the neighbor that jogs is a special case. Well, he’s not, but his wife is. They moved out here from ‘the city’  a few years ago. Well, seems she brought her city joggin’ clothes with her. In the summertime the attire of choice is some kinda little bikini thing. Not sure what it’s made of but it’s fairly tight. The top part looks like one of them jog-bra things. Bare midriff. Butt cheeks. In farm country. It ain’t nothin’ to see a grain truck or pickup or a piece of equipment rolling down the road and then hear the sounds of tires sliding in gravel and idling down as the boys slow down to make this sight last for a bit. There’s advantages and disadvantages as to whether you’re approaching her from the front, or following from rear. The view is good either way but coming from the direction she’s goin’ you get to watch that jog bra earn its keep. ‘Course from the other way you get to wonder just how someone who’s butt cheeks are being cut into by that little bit of material can run at all. It’s an attraction in the neighborhood either way.

Shoot, lost m’place again. Okay, the beagles are a carryin’ on and I suspect the neighbors are joggin again. ‘Course I turn to make sure all is well in the neighborhood and then the bird dogs take off in support of the beagles. Now they ain’t got the fence testing shock collars so they scramble about challenging me to call them back as they head for the road. So I get let out a yellin’ at the bird dogs now, and the Springer comes back but the Brit’s out there a ways. And that’s when I see it. A dog. A damned stray dog a moseyin’ off the road to head up the driveway. Like he owned the place.


Now I have mixed feelings about stray dogs. I like dogs. I like for all dogs to have good loving homes. But I also know that dogs run off, and they get wild sometimes. I also know that living where I do that it’s a dumping ground for strays for folks in town that no longer find it convenient to own a dog. Maybe that’s ‘cause they were kinda dumped themselves at some time in their life.

So I look down the lane and there’s the Brit, Mandy, in a good butt sniffin’ session with this stray dog. Images of a fight pop into my mind’s eye, along with the thought of diseases. The fight thought passes by as I see that Mandy’s got that stupid Britany grin on her face and her rumps a wrigglin’. The other dog is just kinda standin’ there, tail in the air, watching as Mandy walks around him. “Oh great”, I think, “And I got these four females and here comes a male up the drive”. Then I kinda empathise with him, me being a male and stuck here in the middle of these female dogs plus havin’ a wife to contend with. All of a sudden I don’t feel worried about the mutt comin’ up the drive.

Well, the beagles are just besides themselves now, this is about the biggest doins’ to them since the deer came walkin’ through the yard. That was the time they happened to be out of the kennel and the deer took off and they took off after the deer, then I took off after them. Now the one beagle is just about round. Don’t ask me why, she eats the same as the other one. But after she got spayed, well, it weren't no time at all and she was round. The round one gave up on the deer after about 300 yards and came back to the house all tuckered out. The other one I caught up with well after dark, across a creek, that had quite a lot of water in it by the way, about a mile and half south of the house. Ha! That was quite a time. And I let that little dog know just how much I appreciated the bath, and all the brush scrapins’ on my hide, and the exercise I got that day. So anyways, the beagles are bouncin’ around, the skinny one’s sitting up like a woodchuck to get a btter view. The fat one would like to, and tries once in a while, but it usually ends up in her just rolling over. Really be something if I’d taught her to do that, but I didn’t, it was just a by-product of being round.

I tries to call the Brit back, then the Springer decides she’s seen enough and she runs down there and that results in a whole new round of butt sniffin’ and bristling up, and stiff legged struttin’ around. That’s on the part of the Springer. The mutt could care less, he’s sat down in the middle of the drive, got one back leg up, givin’ somethin’ thats bitin’ his shoulder a good what for. Satisfied that whatever it was is gone or at least has desisted in it’s attack of his front quarter, he get up, looks at the Springer, then wags his tail. I guess she was hoping for something more, but the Springer for her part, looks at him, shakes her butt for lack of a tail, and trots back up to me. Just like that! No fightin’, no growling, just, “Hey, how ya doin’? C’mon up to the house.” So he does.

As surely as he won over those two so-called bird dogs, the beagles have now shut up. I reckon they musta trusted the long range recon that the bird dogs gave the stranger. Now I got 5 dogs in the yard. But this old dog… Well I really don’t know how old it is, kinda scruffy looking. Pretty much a shorthaired animal. Can’t tell if he’s over weight or just naturally kinda lumpy. Sure not much to look at. Got real purty eyes though. At any rate I figgered I’d drop him off over at the humane shelter sometime and be done with it.


I decides to go back to ‘work’ with Chance cause I feel the need for just a bit more exercise. Where the Hell’d that dumper get off to? Last I had it… lessee… Oh yeah, it’s up on the roo… The heck it is, that old dog’s got it. Now I know damned well that last errant toss put ‘er on the house roof. How’d it get down here? Well, ole Whatsisname, cause he wasn’t Spot yet at this point, but anyways, the new guy’s got the darned bumper off the roof when I'd turned my back,and is sittin’ over there just holding it. How'd he do dat?That’s when it happened. I went to call him in and it just came out, “Fetch Spot.” Honest to Gawd, I never seen him move. One second he’s sittin’ over there with it in his mouth, the next he’s here sittin’ beside me with that bumper in his mouth, rolling them big ole eyes up at me. How’d he do dat? Well I accepted that bumper from him and stood there holding it and looking at him. Chance is pretty worked up by now, prancing around, giving sorrowful little half yips and half growls. I figger she’s pretty pissed off because the new guy actually brought the bumper to me instead of playing by the existing rules that clearly state that I'm the one to go get the bumper. So I keep an eye on Spot, and haul back and pitch that thing waaaaay out there in the taller grass and weeds. That’ll keep ‘er busy and get me a little exercise. Well Chance runs out just like she always does but it’s soon apparent to me that she’s having trouble finding the bumper. She was out there circling ‘round, I can tell she’s in the right neighborhood but it’s either not there or she’s back to the old ‘fetch’ rules and is trying to lure me out there.  I walks on out that way and then, remembering Spot, turn to call him to help in the search. Son of a b…., he’s got that bumper in his mouth. How'd he do dat? I called him over and once again, straight to my feet, plops down, rolls them eyes and, and, this time he gets a pat on the head. That mangy looking tail trembled just the slightest, then wagged. Just once, but I saw it. Good Spot.

Well ole Mandy the Brit seems to be tolerating the stranger pretty good, just like Mandy always tolerates most things strange to her and some things strange to me. Since it’s getting’ on to nearly dusk I decide to keep Spot on, probably just for the night, then I can drop him off tomorrow after work. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. He can sleep in the kennel with Mandy tonight.


I got home from work the next day and went out to let the mutts out of the kennel. Throw open the door and there’s Mandy a lookin’ at me like she usually does, but there’s Spot, sittin’ just proud as can be over a pile of dead mice. Purty good sized pile too, must be 10, maybe 12 mice in that pile. SOB musta caught ‘em all to pass away the time. How'd he do dat? I looks at him, he looks at me, and there’s that single tail wag again. I look down at Mandy and she looks away. I’d heard her barkin’ at them mice in the that shed for a long time, I guess it never occurred to her to catch them and she seemed a might miffed that Spot had made her look so bad. Cleaned up the mice by tossing them in with the beagles, real treat for them as beagles eat anything and everything, and then went on out to the yard. I’d decided some time that day at work, as thoughts rattled through my mind, some exiting through some unseen and unknown exit, never to return, and others sometimes ricocheting around just long enough to be remembered with a little effort, that I’d plant a few quail and take Mandy out and work her and then come back and work Chance once the birds had been flighted once over Mandy. So I get me 4 or 5 quail in an onion sack, put Mandy in the kennel for a minute, and then wonder what to do with ole Spot. “Stay here boy,” I says. That sucker sat right down while I went out and put those birds around the field. I came back to let Mandy out and look at him and I don’t think he’d moved a bit. I turn out the Brit and knowing there’s birds to be found, she breaks for the field. I know better than to yell, she never listens anyways and last time I was horse the next day. I turn around just in time to see her go on point. Look around and there’s no Spot. Now where’d he get off to I wonder? I walks out there and what I see is that Mandy is honorin’ Spot, who’s been behind tall enough weeds to hide him from me at first, and he’s locked up tighter’n a drum, every lump in his shoulders, if you could call ‘em that, and every roll on his withers is just tremblin’. I don’t know if it was just that good a point or if he’s near exhaustion that's makin' him tremble so. Either way, it sure was nice to see two dogs so intent on their business and doin’ such a nice job of it. I finally quit admirin’ and decide I’d better flush that quail and then get on to the next. I walk in there and the explosion of wings ‘most startles the teeth out of my head. No less than 6 quail take off out of that little patch of weeds. Six! What in the Hell’s goin’ on here? I only put out 4, maybe 5 to start out with and the field’s 200 yards long. No way they coulda regrouped that quick. And where’d the extra bird or two come from? I ain't saying that mangy mutt dog had anything to do with it, that he went out there and rounded up them quail that quick plus found a stray or two in the process and brought them in too, but somethin' sure as hell happened real quick like.

I look at Spot, and I swear over whatever it is that you hold holy, I swear that damned dog was grinning at me. No shit. Sitting there lookin’ up at me, big ole grin across his chops.

I’m about half spooked by now after all the strange stuff that's happened that's coincided with the arrival of this ole dog at the place. But I know if I don’t get Chance out and let her out here, where she can run out of control, refuse to turn at the whistle, refuse to flush sitting birds, pin and trap running birds, refuse steadiness at the flush, pluck feathers and so on and so forth like she usually does that she’s gonna be seriously miffed. So I take Mandy up and put her in the house and after Chance and she pay their regards to each other, which consists of Chance growling at least twice and nipping at Mandy at least once, we head on out, just me, Chance, and the new guy, Spot.

Now them half dozen quail had scattered out pretty good after that covey flush. I figure we got a half hour’s work ahead of us to find ‘em all. I put Chance on Hup, put the whistle to my lips, pull a breath, and just get out the start of a little ‘tweet’, actually it was just a 'tw....', when there’s a blur beside me. Spot he takes off, rounds out about 40 yards away, heads back in and then takes a flying leap into a stand of grass about 20 yards from me. A little brown blur came buzzin’ up outta there, hell bent for election and bound on getting away from that dog. I watched him come on, watched him come on, saw the gleam in its eye, saw the white on it’s throat denoting it a male, and then ‘whumpf’, the little sucker kamikazes into my chest, breaking his neck and knocking the wind out of me. I gasp for air, once, twice, and then look down at Chance who’s still at my feet, her eyes about the size of silver dollars. She’d never even gotten off the start. The bird’s disappeared. Where’d he go? I look off to the other side of me, there sits that dog, Spot, with that Brokeback Bird in its mouth. I shit you not, that happened 5 more times in a row. Not the dead bird part; I may be dumb but I do catch on after a bit. I learned to duck when they were coming in. 5 more times in a row that dog beat Chance out of the blocks, was out there and had the bird found, and got it turned so’s every one of them became a little missile aimed at the upper extremities of my torso. Chance, well she finally caught on, she’d wait and when the bird came sailing past us she’d turn and follow it. Even managed to catch one and actually brought it in to me. Hated gettin’ shown up that bad I reckon.


So that’s the story of how ole Spot came to the place and how he spent his first day with us. Now I got to feeling pretty bad after Spot’s stellar performance on those birds and how I’m thinking I can finally get rid of all of Angie’s cats now that we got us a real mouser on the place and not just some cat that scratches around in the box but when it comes time to do the deed manages to miss the litter box entirely. You ever wonder about that? Give ‘em a box, 18” x 24”, full of expensive, sweet smelling gravel with little green stuff in it, and they scratch around, mange to throw most of the damned gravel out, and then crap over the edge of the box. Now if you got 3 cats like we do that gets to be quite a mess over a couple days’ time. Anyways, I feel bad ‘cause I figure someone’s missing them a right fine buddy in ole Spot, not to mention a bird finding, mark retrieving son of a gun that can do either pointer or flusher work better’n most dogs can do one or the other. Reckon I’d had about the best hunting buddy in the world come a strollin’ up my driveway. Then conscience got the best of me so I took out an ad in 2 local papers. Okay, so what if they weren’t very big ads? They had my name and the fact that a stray dog’d shown up at the house and the number to call. 2 weeks went by and that phone never once. Thank God and thank my ISP for unlimited dial up time.


A little time goes on and one night I start working on a project that’d been in the back of my head fermenting for a bit. My kids are all the time calling me to get recipes for this and that. So I was thinking maybe I’d get busy and just put a bunch of them family recipes down on the computer and make some of them CD’s with the recipes on ‘em and give ‘em to the kids. So I sit down and I commence workin’ and it’s not going well. I can’t think. I got recipe cards and cookbooks spread out across the floor, I can’t hardly find the keyboard no more for all the newspaper clippings and hand scribbled notes on the desk. I got disgusted and went out to have a smoke and fetch me a cold one. Spot had been tryin’ to lay at my feet but with all the mess he wasn’t having much luck. When I got back into the room the mess is gone and there on the floor is a stack of the recipe stuff. I head over to it and Spot, well he he’d evidently had enough with cleanin’ up one mess ‘cause I hear him growl at me, and then bares his teeth and backs me right into the chair. I fall into the chair and Spot takes a paw and slides one of those recipes across the floor to me. I turn to and start typing. At one point I hear another growl and he’s by my shoulder, front paws on the desk, lookin’ over my shoulder. He’s staring at the computer real intently. What I’d typed was “2 ½ T baking powder” Yeah so? Another growl and one fang shows up at the corner of his mouth. I look at him, back at the computer, then down at the recipe. Son of a gun if he hadn’t caught that it was supposed to read, “2 ½ t. baking powder.” Okay, so there’s just a bit of difference. But to have your shortcomings pointed out by a dog? That’s what I got married for was to have someone to humiliate me. But I swear, that dog pointed every mistake that I made on that project. Well, he might have missed one or two that I slid in while he was napping or outside taking care of business.

So that’s pretty much how Spot showed up here, what he’s capable of, and how he gets along. He ain’t much bother, a little food, some water, a few birds. I figured the other dogs would hate having him around but they really seem to appreciate him and really like the extra time they get to sleep. He’s over here by my feet now, I can just hear him snoring a bit as he’s stretched out on the floor by my feet.


Ain’t so bad having a stray around the place….

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Up The Creek



Ken M. Blomberg

“To band a bird is to hold a ticket in a great lottery.”      Aldo Leopold


    This is a story of an American woodcock.  A special, migratory male woodcock, that stopped by our place along the creek in the spring of 2005.  He was on his way north to his birthplace, somewhere in northern Minnesota, perhaps southern Manitoba, or Quebec.  In the final analysis, this story begins and ends near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

    Sometime in February of 2005, our male woodcock – like thousands of his kind - felt a strong urge to migrate north.  Most likely, his journey began in Louisiana, where a good portion of the Central Flyway woodcock population winter. The trip from southern wintering grounds to his place of birth covered at least 1400 miles, lasted several months and followed a route along the Mississippi and Wisconsin River valleys and the south shore of Lake Superior.

    Spring migration is fueled by the urge to mate and male woodcock actively perform their courtship “sky dance” along the way.  Spring and fall, we know that woodcock feed and loaf in sheltered covers during the day and migrate after dark. The birds travel at heights of somewhere around 50 feet and depending on wind direction and speed, cover from 30 up to 200 miles a day, alone, or in loose flocks - often called "flights."  All along the route, male woodcock set up shop in openings in the woods, or singing grounds, next to suitable nesting habitat that attract females.

    By March 28th, our male woodcock had arrived and claimed a singing ground on our property in north central Wisconsin.  He, along with two others began dancing in the sky at dusk each evening, hoping to lure any early arriving females.  On the fifth night of his stay, number one son, Erik and I set two mist nets on singing ground we’ve numbered #025, while braving a light drizzle and shower of hail.  We were about to give up, due to less than ideal conditions, when he began “peenting” on the ground just south of the nets.  According to my field notes, he flew up just once, missing both nets by no more than a few feet, only to hit the south net on his return landing.

    That night he became #25001, a portion of the number that corresponds to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) aluminum band we fastened to one of his legs.  We took the appropriate measurements, including the length of his bill, which measured 66 millimeters.  25001 flew into the darkness when Erik released it that misty night.  If memory serves, we heard him peenting once again as we took down the nets.

    The next evening, we banded another male, #25002, on singing ground #034, which we lured into the net with a tape recording of another peenting male.  Aggressive, territorial behavior takes over and causes them to attack when they hear another male on their singing ground.  After a third “sky dance”, he became tangled in our mist net.

     25001 left a short time after being banded, leading us to believe he was a migrant on his way to more northerly breeding grounds.  As it turned out, 25001 apparently picked up favorable winds and continued up the Wisconsin River valley until he hit the south shore of Lake Superior, where he probably followed a northwesterly direction to somewhere near Minnesota’s Grand Rapids, or perhaps beyond.  The aluminum band he carried would ultimately tell his story.

    Come early October, when powerful northwest winds and frosty nights occur in the northern fringe of its range, the annual woodcock migration begins.  Typically peaking in late October and early November, it can begin as early as September and last well into November.  With the coming of autumn, winds push large numbers of woodcock south.

    Our story ended during the 2005 Ruffed Grouse Society’s Annual Grouse and Woodcock Hunt. Minnesota DNR Commissioner, Gene Merriam, harvested 25001 on property owned by RGS National Board President Wayne Jacobson, near Hill City, MN.  

    To learn the fate of a banded bird is bittersweet.  For the hunter, he held in his hand a bird and a ticket in a great lottery.  For the bander, he gained another piece of the puzzle and another answer to the remaining mysteries surrounding this great gamebird.

*Footnote – On the first of April 2006, two male woodcock began displaying on singing ground #025.  Were they offsprings of 25001?  Or just a pair of migrants passing by?   Time to get the mist nets out of storage………..

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  • 2 weeks later...


 By Brian C. Allison.

     "That's the field".  I said to Lori, as we drove slowly down the dirt road.  

We were out at the time, searching for a new home.  Well, you could call it searching but, it wasn't really that.  It was more like controlled panic, and actually not being very controlled at times.  What made us so panic, was the fact.  Our house, was up for sale and having a serious buyer looking at it for the second time now.  Adding to the madness, was the house we had a contingency offer on, had a cash offer made on it just last week.  Making us a little nervous.....actually, very nervous.  Because, if their home inspection goes through with no hitches.  Were done and out of the picture, with that deal.  Never fails, you find something you like and someone else comes along and falls in love with it too.  

     I slow down even more, to point-out a few of my favorite spots in the field.  Spots that use to hold the most birds, which did change from year to year.  

     Motioning with my hand, and telling her at the same time.

"See that low spot over there, that's where I took my last bird out of this field".  "Norton, put him up for me".  

    Now, there's three homes, sitting in that "honey hole" or "hot spot", whichever you prefer, of that field.  This spot in the field, that now holds, only the voices of kids playing; not the cackle of a rooster taking flight.  

     Nothing like the evening, Norton, being only nine months old at the time, flushed five roosters.  All at the same time, an explosion of wild pheasants releasing there deep seeded, entrenched natural instincts, to escape and do it quickly.   While un-known to them, actually helping the clouds, in there failing attempt to do so, obscure the setting suns final rays.  Forms so forever ingrained in the surrounding beauty and of my mind.  That the solitude of each pheasant taking wing, showed traces, of every color of the rainbow.  When added together.  There is not a color spectrum that could compare to it or color chart that could do it justice, in trying to name them all.  There entangled, self absorbing, entwining colors.  

     Those where the days though, when you could find enough wild birds to train a bird dog on them. That was a sight though, five roosters.  In Michigan, if you can believe that and I'm not talking in the hay-day of pheasant hunting days, either.  

     As we drive on, I can only wonder if they knew what they did, when they built those houses there or if they would even care.......... if they did know?  I know..... progress.  I was just wondering..... not condemning.  Progress, though it sounds great, when you can't see it.  Progress, when you can, just doesn't look so great.

          After going by the new homes, we came to the old farm house.  Now being remodeled by the new owners and looking pretty good if I do say so myself.  My ex-FIL wasn't much of a handy-man, if you know what I mean, things were a little run down from years of neglect.  

     These fields we're looking over, were part of the eighty some acre farm, that my ex-father-in-law owned up until he died last year of lung cancer.  I've hunted those fields for over twenty-five years, with many a springer spaniel beside me.  I had a pretty good relationship with my ex father-in-law and mother-in-law.  They let and liked to see me hunt the property even after the divorce.  But, over the past three years.  I've not been out there, to do any bird hunting.  Not enough birds, for me.  Didn't seem right to shoot the last birds off the property.  When they had given me such great pleasure over the years.  

    As we roll slowly by the house.  I could almost still see him, if I look really hard.  Still standing there, by the front porch, smiling, as he always did.  As we would pull into the driveway, to let his grandsons and the our dogs out of the truck.  He'd always say, like clock work, as we jumped out.

    "I love when you guys come out-here, to bird hunt".  Always, knocking my oldest sons hat off his head, in the meanwhile.  

     Saying, "Must have been the wind".  

I truely believe.  That he surely did, enjoy seeing his grandsons, hunt that property.  He may have missed it, as much as me, when we stopped bird hunting there.  I don't know?  But, I too.  Sometimes, and probably not enough, think of him.  I sure do miss that old guy and his reaching smile.

     We get down to the end of the eighty, the most northern part.  And, I stop the truck.  Lori, being surprized at my actions.  

     Says, "What are you stopping for"?  


     I said, "I'm gonna let the dogs out and let them go to bathroom".  

     I know..........what your thinking.......... they, my ex-inlaws, don't own it anymore.  Your right, someone else owns it now, it's trespassing in a way.  But, there's a certain type of kindred connection, between me and this land.  Something that personal ownership is surperseded by, well in my book anyways.  Plus, the house is still empty, no one living there yet and most of the land is still up for sale.  Plus, I know the guy that bought the most northern ten acre's, where were standing, talked to him many a time.  So, please don't think bad of me.  I too have owned land and know what it's like to have strangers on your land; but, I am no stranger to this land.  

     Well, I let them out and off they go.  Their gone, gliding off, along the waves of packed down grass and weeds, created by the heavy snows of last winter, like a small flotillia of ships, seen then un-seen, like the ship's of the north Atlantic in heavy sea's.  

     I'm watching but, not really.  It's more like I'm, remembering.  As I'm standing there, thinking of the past, viewing memories.  Kind of like the way, you'd see them at an old time picture show, black and white, sharp but, grainy between the out-line of each figure, with a 'slight' or 'uncertain where it comes from' warmth to them.  All being created by your own mind but, in the same instant, almost simultaneously, while there being absorbed through the viewing mind.  Something, how your mind works, playing it and watching it, at the same time.  That being, unexplainable to me.

     But, I snap back to the present.  Looking out towards the future, these three setters of ours.  Eyes a little misty, from the wind I quess, I look on.  I've walked every inch of this field, at one time or another.  Whether I was working a new prospect or following an old pro.  There's not a piece of grass out there, that doesn't have a footprint of mine on it; or one of these dogs predecessors.  Hunted with each of my son's there.  First bird for the oldest, youngest never got it done but, that's alright.  He was there and I was there, that's the important part.  There's still lots of memories, never to be forgotten.  

    Well, I'm just getting ready to call them in.  And then, through the ever so needed, drying winds of April, taking care of what the March rains left us and the eyes of a pondering soul, remembering, comes the cackle of a rooster, somewhere farther back in the field.  I know, immediately.  Where he's calling from.  It's the old stone pile, where they have been doing that for years.  Being that, it's the most elevated spot on the farm; well besides the house and the barn.  His old voice really carries from there, any female for miles would hear him and rightly so.  He's probably had to earn it, that spot, through a battle or two.  

     Well, I can't stop myself now.  It's a whistle blow and a hand signal and were off.  The wind is right; but everything else is wrong.  He's got us pegged out in the open field with the sun behind him and the element of surprize long gone, for us.  But, we move on.  We approach the stone pile just to find scent, nothing more.  But, the youngest dog(Nash), thinks he's just found the world.  With those scents that have just entered his nostrils.  We move on again.  Half knowing, there's no chance in hell, were going to stick this rooster.  But for now, that's alright, it's all for the chance of seeing one.  

     They are working their way towards the back fencerow, closing fast, on what's left of the field.  When out of the fencerow, just as suddenly as we had heard him cackle, he appears.  Almost, seeming to have done this, by him, using some sort of supernatural-powers.  All the while, old Mr. Rooster's taking flight, cupping his wings as much as he can.  To create as much lift, as his wings will provide.  Gaining elevation, as quickly, as he knows how.  Something he has done many times, I assume.  Completing this masterfully, thought out, escape plan.  And, all of this is happening, with the added insult or comtempt of him, laughing all the way across the field.  Telling the setters, with one cackle after another.  "No wild rooster's going to stick around for you silly pointing dogs".  Plus, I think all of my long gone springer spaniels were looking down and laughing too.  As the rooster was cackling to me, singing another tune, "You should have stayed with springers".  At least that's what it sounded like to me...... I could have sworn I heard it, as clear as a bell.  

     But, in all fairness, Gwen and Nash both stopped to flush.  They both watched as he flew to parts unknown.  But meanwhile and unknown at the time, a little farther down the fencerow.  Yogi, my gordon, had himself another rooster pinned down.  But, as I walk into his line of sight.  He gets up, and is gone, as I approach further but, he's a shooter.  Fencerows, always being a tough place to hunt by yourself but, I'm not hunting.   So, it doesn't matter; this time.  So, maybe.....just maybe.... Mr. first rooster was wrong?  Take that.... wild rooster, pointing dogs one, wild rooster one, all tied up.  Ready for another go of it someday but, not today.  Today, were done.  

     We returned to the truck.   Me, wet to my knee's and the dogs as muddy as I've ever seen them but, all with smiles on our faces; even the dogs I'm telling ya.  Lori says to me as I get in the truck.

     "Your soaking wet, hope it was worth it".  I just nodded and smiled, she knew what that meant and smiled back at me.  A big "Hell Yeah", it was worth it.  

     All of a sudden the sunset was the most beautiful sunset and the day one of the best days ever.  All because of a simple little thing...... a rooster and a field..... well, actually two rooster but, one would have been enough.  

     As I turned out on to the gravel road, hearing the sound of gravel being pinched between the road and my tires, a sound that can't be duplicated.  I quess, as when you've been down as many dirt roads as I have, the sound is something magical and meaningful.  Something, any hunter would recognize or identify with.  It's almost like music to our ears.  Dirt and gravel, under our trucks, not pavement.

     It's right then and there, I know that this is where I belong, "In this moment".  My wife beside me, my dogs in tow and a rooster somewhere out there, still.  And, these moments, are the moments that are truely important in life.  It may sound crazy to you but, it's true.  It being.....just a field.....just a place or just being..... a moment in time.... in my life....... I don't think so.  It's more than that, it has to be more than that.  Because, if it weren't more than that, you'd have never known of it...... that day...... that field.

      And, the old adage really seems appropriate and really hits home to me, at this very moment; "You can take the boy out of the country but, you can't take the country out of the boy".  Hope you enjoyed our day, at "Just a Field".  Brian.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm posting this at Wisconsin's suggestion.  It is a comment I made to him in a private message regarding his posting entitled

A "Sky Dance" Inspiration

I just read your article about woodcock--"A Sky Dance Inspiration."  Very enjoyable.

I know your son is a biologist who's job it is to try to learn about and unravel some of the "mysteries" around grouse and perhaps woodcock.  I find myself wondering about some of the bird's habits and natural history, yet at the same time finding pleasure in the fact that there still is mystery.

Over the years I’ve hunted woodcock, but frankly only as an aside to grouse.  When I lived in the city I always wanted to go out after work in the evening and witness their spring sky dance.  But life and work being what they are I never found the time or energy to drive the 35-45 miles to get to a place east of town where I’d most likely be able to readily find a good spot to watch for an hour or so at dusk before the drive home.  People always told me I should get out in spring and work my dogs on woodcock.  It would pay dividends in fall.  Again because of time constraints I never did.  Plus I've always felt I didn't want to disrupt and further tax the energy of a bird that has already spent so much energy in it's migration and mating ritual.

We moved to the country in ’04.  This is the second spring in which I’ve been able to stand in my backyard and witness the sky dance every evening.  While I don’t want to wax too poetic, I can say that I am absolutely captivated by listening to and watching those magical little birds do their peent, sky dance and whistling, twittering feathered power dive.  I’m in awe of their drive, stamina and sometimes seemingly futile desire to attract a mate.  I’ve become so taken with them that despite now having the opportunity to go out my back door to work my dogs on some woodcock, I feel constrained to do so.  I’m afraid (perhaps needlessly) that I’ll disrupt and drive away the 1 or 2 males that stake out the meadow and wetland behind our house.  Then that will be the end of my evening viewing enjoyment.  Now that I live in the middle of some of the best woodcock territory in Wisconsin, I’ve had a renewed and increased opportunity and enjoyment (that’s largely what it’s about regardless of whatever lame excuse one feels the need to use to rationalize hunting to anti-hunters) in hunting woodcock.  Yet, as in some science fiction horror show, like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I feel I’m becoming “one with the woodcock.”  I feel protective to the point that if someone enters the meadow I’m afraid I’ll drive them off in a frenzy like some wild lioness or bear protecting its cubs.

I so look forward to fall and hunting, yet, at least rhetorically I find myself asking how can I shoot this marvelous, mystical little bird in autumn that provides me with so much almost voyeuristic pleasure watching it in spring?  How could I kill one of my darling little woodcock, to paraphrase Robert Traver referring to his “darling troutlings.”   Indeed how can I, yet I do.

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Rhode Island

I was in real danger of going to bed last night in a foul mood.  Turkey season is upon us here in the Ocean State, and for the last 10 years of my life I have dreamed almost daily of the spring turkey woods.  I love turkey hunting, and to me there is no greater thrill than that that accompanies a successful hunt (and for the record, the breaking of a turkeys neck is not a prerequisite for success).  But, just as almost anyone we love is prone to cause us joy interspersed by bouts of anger, so too can this sport instill in me both pure elation when things go well, and pure disgust, mostly in myself, when things don’t work out.  

That was the point I was nearing as the sun set last night.  The morning hunt had been as stereotypical of a public land hunt as it could have been, and my efforts to locate a bird for this morning were fruitless, leaving me with no game plan for the following morning.  I HATE not having a good game plan when turkey hunting.  I was following the trail back to my truck, shaking my head and cursing myself for not putting in more effort before the season so I could have avoided this situation.  I entered an old farm field along the trail: the brushy, overgrown sort that northeastern bird hunters dream of, and it was at this point I said to myself “You know, this is supposed to be fun”.

He must have taken this as his cue, because it was no sooner than the thought entered my head that I heard the twitter of his wings.  The Sky Dance was beginning for the evening.

I had not yet been out to see my friends this spring, something I felt a little guilty about, and that sound instantly turned my scowl to a grin.  Each time he left his stage to circle in the sky, I moved closer, and when I heard him chuckling I stopped.  Eventually I found myself within sight of the little bird.  When he came down after yet another flight, I realized that something was wrong.   He had stopped peenting, and instead was making a low grunting sound that was unfamiliar to me.  I was puzzled at first, but when I saw her it all became clear.  

I then bore witness to something special, something I had never experienced before, and it took my breath away.  There was just enough light left that with the aid of my binoculars I could see all of the happenings in great detail.  She would run forward a few feet, and he would follow, wings outstretched and held high, body bobbing with each step, tail flared, and emitting those low grunts all the while.  After several minutes, which seemed to pass in just a few seconds, she fluttered off, and he resumed his sky dance.  I was left to wonder if the encounter had been successful, or if she had judged and found him wanting?  I watched him for a while longer, staying past the time I told myself I should be in bed if I wanted to get any semblance of a good nights sleep.  Sleep didn’t matter at this point; turkeys and turkey hunting were the last things on my mind.  

I did not even hear a turkey this morning, and right now I could care less.


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