Outdoors

Alabama’s First Sandhill Season in 103 Years Deemed Success

(Courtesy of Jason Russell) The Russell family, from left, Grayson, Jason and Jonathan, show the results of a successful sandhill crane hunt in north Alabama, the state’s first sandhill hunt in 103 years.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Another warm winter left Alabama’s duck hunters frustrated, but those who were lucky enough to score permits for the first sandhill crane season in the state in 103 years were elated.

Although not all of the 400 crane permit holders were able to harvest one of the large birds, those who did raved about the new hunting opportunity.

Jason Russell of Gadsden, Alabama, and his 17-year-old son, Grayson, both drew permits, which allowed a harvest of three birds each.

The first order of business was to secure a place to hunt sandhills in the hunting zone in north Alabama. Fortunately, a friend from Birmingham had connections with a landowner near the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and they were granted permission to hunt.

“We were excited to get an opportunity to hunt the sandhills,” said Russell, an avid duck hunter and award-winning decoy carver. “We’d seen them around for years. We really didn’t know the reality of what it would take to kill one.

“Once we were drawn, we thought we’d give it a shot. We bought decoys and got ready. What was interesting this year, everywhere I went, I saw cranes. I saw them near my house. At Weiss Lake, we saw cranes. At Guntersville, we saw cranes. Everywhere we went, we at least saw cranes flying.”

On the morning of the first hunt, the Russells saw several cranes in the field they planned to hunt and saw several more in the air. After setting up their decoys, both full-body and silhouettes, they settled into their blinds.

“Within 20 minutes we had a group of birds fly 15 yards over our decoys,” Jason said. “We ended up letting them go because we were so awestruck that our setup actually worked. We were kind of surprised.

“Another 20-30 minutes went by and groups of two and three came by. On our first hunt, three of us had permits, and we killed six birds on an afternoon hunt that lasted maybe two or three hours. We were pretty excited that you could actually decoy them. After duck and goose hunting for 30 years, this gives hunting a new twist and a new excitement.”

The Russells had planned to hunt cranes just like they would geese in an open field with layout blinds. They soon discovered natural vegetation helped them hide much better.

“There was some scrub brush sticking up,” Jason said. “I thought, well, let’s at least be comfortable. There was enough brush to where we could get hidden. We put our full-bodies out at 20 yards, hid our faces and kept our heads down. We were shooting decoying birds at 15 to 20 yards.”

The hunters left that area undisturbed for three weeks before attempting a second hunt. They were even more awestruck when they arrived at the hunting land. Jason needed two birds to fill his tags, while Grayson only needed one.

“When we got there, there must have been between 200 and 300 sandhills in the field,” Jason said. “After we got set up, three birds came in and I doubled up.”

With only one tag left, the cranes seemed hesitant to decoy. The Russells soon figured out that trying to mix crane hunting and goose hunting might not work very well.

“We had put out full-body goose decoys to try to kill a few geese while we were there,” Jason said. “It was interesting that the cranes seemed to be skirting our decoys. We decided either we were going to have to move or do something different. We made the decision to pull all the goose decoys. By the time we pulled the last goose decoy and got back in the blind, we had a pair of sandhills at 15 yards. My son rolled his out, and we were done. It could have been coincidence that we pulled the goose decoys and we killed one, but I feel like they flared off of the full-body goose decoys.

“We were just catching the cranes traveling from one field to another. I guess they decided to drop into our decoys to see what was going on.”

Before the hunt, Russell was afraid that it might be possible to mistake a protected whooping crane for a sandhill crane. That turned out to be an unrealized worry.

“One of my fears was being able to identify the birds if we were in low light,” he said. “Sometimes when you get the sun wrong, you can’t see color that well. I thought we were going to have to be really careful to look out for whooping cranes. But that was not a problem. The whooping cranes stood out like a sore thumb. We made sure there was no shooting at all when those were in the area.

“And we never shot into big groups of sandhills. We never shot into groups of more than four birds. I felt like we didn’t educate them for the most part. If people will be smart and shoot the birds in the decoys or really close, then it will be a good thing for years to come.”

Jason said it was “awesome” that he and Grayson both got permits in the first year of the new sandhill season.

“To get to shoot our sandhills together was special,” Jason said. “On our first hunt, we shot into a group of three birds and each of us got one. It was real exciting to get to have that moment of father-son hunting. It was just a neat, awesome experience that we will never be able to share again in waterfowling.”

Jason took his youngest son, 13-year-old Jonathan, on the second hunt to share the experience although Jonathan wasn’t able to hunt.

“I just wanted him to see it,” Jason said. “I was excited for him to get to watch and hear the sounds of how loud those birds really are. It was amazing. He carried one of the birds out of the field. It was a big, mature bird and he cradled that thing all the way out of the field.”

 The excitement wasn’t over for the Russells when they prepared the crane for the dinner table.

“Cooking them was phenomenal,” Jason said. “We cooked some one night and took a little to a church group. One of the guys who doesn’t eat wild game said it was the best meal he’s eaten in his life. It was very flavorful. I thought it would be more like a duck, but it wasn’t.

“We enjoy eating duck, but I could eat way more sandhills. It was just so tender. I’ve always heard sandhills were the ribeye of the sky. Now I believe it. When you put it in your mouth, it tasted like steak. It was tender and juicy. Oh my gosh, it was so good.”

Seth Maddox, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Migratory Game Bird Coordinator, said the duck season was indeed disappointing, but he was enthusiastic about the first sandhill season.

The final results of the sandhill season won’t be available for a couple more weeks to allow permit holders to complete their post-season surveys.

Maddox said he expects the final numbers to be in line with other states with sandhill seasons.

“From the hunters we’ve talked to, it seems to be a pretty successful sandhill season,” Maddox said. “We’re expecting a harvest rate of about 30 percent, which will be a little more than 300 birds.”

Maddox said the warm winter not only caused diminished duck numbers in Alabama but also affected the sandhill population.

“Sandhill numbers were a little below normal for the birds we typically over-winter here in Alabama,” he said. “Our 5-year average is 15,000 birds. This year, we estimated the population at 12,000, which made for a little tougher conditions for hunters. The birds tended to concentrate in areas closer to the refuges.”

Maddox said the sandhill season is the first of four as an experimental season under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations. He said the number of permits (400) and tags (1,200) will be the same next year.

Alabama’s sandhill harvest rate is similar to that of Tennessee and Kentucky, which surprises Maddox a bit.

“Our season was probably a little better than I expected,” he said. “Our hunters had never done it before. They had to find people willing to give them access to hunting land. Hunters got to make new friends. I think it was a very successful season.”

Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival Will Be Held May 1

Jim Godwin with the Auburn University Natural Heritage Program teaches festival goers about the Eastern indigo snake.

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Forest Service, and Auburn University, will host the 3rd annual Eastern Indigo Snake and Wildlife Festival at the Conecuh National Forest Open Pond Recreation Area on May 1, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The festival celebrates the Eastern indigo snake, the longest nonvenomous, native snake species in North America. In addition to learning about the Eastern indigo, attendees will learn about the longleaf pine ecosystem including the gopher tortoise and the hundreds of other species that use its burrows. Attendees will also have the opportunity to interact with live animals as well as biologists and foresters from various state, federal, and private organizations. Families, school groups, and visitors are welcome.
School groups must sign up with the Covington County Extension Office at (334) 222-1125. Sign up is on a first come, first served basis. For more information about the Open Pond Recreation Area, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/alabama/recarea/?recid=30113. For additional information about the festival, contact WFF Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator Traci Wood at (334) 398-3726.
ABOUT THE EASTERN INDIGO SNAKE
The Eastern indigo snake is a threatened and protected species throughout its range along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. Decades ago, the species disappeared from Alabama in step with the loss of its natural habitat – longleaf pine forests.
In recent years, Eastern indigos have been released in the Conecuh National Forest in south Alabama with the goal of creating a viable population and addressing the USFWS recovery plan for the species. The first known, wild Eastern indigo snake was recently discovered at Conecuh National Forest. If the Eastern indigo snake reestablishes a viable population in Alabama, a piece of the state’s natural history will be restored.
The most notable features of the Eastern indigo snake are the iridescent, blue-black color of its head and body, and a reddish-orange color on the throat, cheeks, and chin. It is the longest snake in North America, reaching lengths of up to 8 ½ feet. Being at the top of its food chain, indigos rule the forest. Compared to other snakes, the Eastern indigo’s diet consists of some surprising items including venomous snakes like the copperhead and rattlesnake. A healthy population of Eastern indigos in a longleaf pine forest is an indication of an ecologically balanced forest.
To learn more about the Eastern indigo snake in Alabama, visit www.outdooralabama.com.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Young Luverne Hunter Wins 8th Annual Big Buck Photo Contest

The eighth annual Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association Big Buck Photo Contest drew more than 9,100 votes this year, with Porter Beasley of Luverne emerging as the winner. The 9-year-old outdoorsman won a CVA .50 caliber Optima Muzzleloader with a KonusPro Scope and gun case, valued at $535, by receiving the most votes in the online contest.

“We are always happy to highlight the memories made while hunting in the Black Belt,” said Pam Swanner, director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “We love seeing families share these experiences here in the Black Belt.

“Our contest this year had entries from 20 of the 23 Black Belt counties with a wide range of hunters sharing their photos – youngsters and adults, men, women and children. We enjoy bringing these contests to our followers to promote ethical hunting and fishing in the Black Belt and celebrate all our region has to offer.”

Porter is a fourth grader at Luverne School and his 10-point buck was taken on the Friday afternoon of the special youth hunt in November just outside of his hometown. The buck had a rough gross score of 141, according to his dad and hunting partner, Mylan Beasley.

“Porter has taken several deer,” his dad said, “but this one is his best. He has really taken notice of how special his deer was, and it has led him to pass on several quality deer this year. He hunts as much as possible and is in the woods around our house daily. He has beaten a path to the ponds on our place, as well.”

The hunt that produced the winning photo was over a 3-acre food plot. Beasley said several doe and young bucks came to the plot, but Porter wanted to wait to see what would happen later since it was his first hunt of the year. “As the shadows disappeared and the deer really started coming in, I looked over Porter’s right side and noticed a rack moving through the woods. I got his attention and he positioned his rifle into the shooting window. When the buck exited the timber and stood in the plot, maybe 30 yards away, he was already in Porter’s sights. Before I could tell him to take a deep breath and make a good shot, Porter’s rifle cracked, and the buck kicked with both back legs and dug his way back into the timber.”

The Beasley men found the buck within minutes and the youngster called his uncle, mom and grandmother to let them know pictures of a big buck were coming.

Porter said he’s “thrilled to win the contest and looking forward to hunting with a muzzleloader.”

This year’s contest drew 53 entries and Porter’s photo attracted 3,011 votes. To be eligible, the deer must have been taken in the Black Belt during the 2019-2020 season and uploaded to the website. To see all the entries, visit AlabamaBlackBeltAdventures.org/bigbuckcontest.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association promotes and encourages ethical hunting and fishing practices. Our Big Buck Photo Contest was created to further educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt region.

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens. For information, go to www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org.

Soil Sampling: Important Part of Spring

Show off a green thumb and ensure growing conditions are right by collecting soil for soil samples prior to planting. The Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory offers this service to help growers make informed decisions about soil nutrients and soil composition on the farm or in the back yard. By supplying recommendations to help growers maintain plants and create a more sustainable growing environment, soil testing can help get spring gardens off on the right foot.
Importance of Soil Testing
“Soil is the basis for most of what we do as gardeners and without healthy soil, you cannot grow healthy plants,” said Taylor Reeder, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and pests agent.
It is important to grow plants in the right environment. Adequate soil nutrients, in addition to the correct soil type, will help gardeners create and maintain a growing environment where plants can thrive.
Preparing Soil Samples
To begin the soil testing process, pick up a soil sample kit from the local Extension office. It will include a form explaining how to properly collect a soil sample.
“It is best to send soil samples that are dry,” Reeder said. “Laying the soil out on newspaper to dry before sending it off is suggested.”
Collect soil from the garden site or flower bed. According to Reeder, it is important to dig deep enough into the soil to collect an adequate sample. This could range from 2 to 8 inches deep, depending on the types of plants or seeds growers choose to plant in a given area. It is also important to include only soil in the sample. Make sure to remove as much plant and debris as possible.
Soil Test Results
Soil tests determine the pH and nutrient content of soil. This is beneficial as different plants often thrive in different pH ranges and require different nutrient concentrations. It is also advantageous to know soil nutrient levels, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. These levels will help growers make informed decisions regarding fertilizer types and frequency.
Growers can also do an analysis to test levels of micronutrients such as zinc in the soil. This analysis will include liming suggestions.
“Add lime to your soil in order to raise its pH if it is too acidic for what you are intending to grow,” said Reeder.
Sending the Soil Sample
Soil samples should be sent to the Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory. The form available at local Extension offices with the sample box will include the sample mailing address. Each sample costs $7, with an added cost to perform a micronutrient analysis. Note: results are available by mail or electronically.
For more information, visit www.aces.edu. Read more about soil sampling at https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/crop-production/routine-soil-analysis/

Picking the Best Blackberry Varieties

Interested in planting blackberries? Choosing the best blackberry varieties for the backyard garden will require a little homework. Because there are so many blackberry varieties, gardeners should spend a bit of time researching which cultivated variety, or cultivar, of blackberry is best for a specific location. Chip East, an Alabama Extension commercial horticulture regional agent, offers some tips on selecting cultivars and proper planting conditions.
Blackberry Cultivars
Blackberries cultivars come in three major types—erect, semi-erect or trailing. Semi-erect and trailing cultivars require a trellis. In contrast, erect blackberry types stand independently, but planting on a trellis in home gardens minimizes wind damage to the canes.
Next growers must choose between plants with thorns or those without.
“Thorny plants offer an aggressive growth habit and more disease resistance, and therefore can be very productive,” said East.
Popular thorny, erect blackberry cultivars include ‘Chickasaw,’ ‘Choctaw,’ ‘Kiowa’ and ‘Shawnee.’ Popular erect cultivars without thorns include ‘Apache,’ ‘Arapaho,’ ‘Natchez,’ ‘Navajo’ and ‘Ouachita.’
East said there can be significant differences in the fruit size and overall production between different cultivars. It may depend on the use of the berry as to what cultivar to choose.
Planting Conditions
Plant blackberries in late winter or spring of the year. While early spring planting is best, do not plant until the soil is dry enough to work. Prepare the planting area with the same care as for a vegetable seedbed.
Blackberries need planting areas with good drainage and full sunlight.
Blackberries grow and produce satisfactorily on a wide range of soil types, from sandy to heavy clay loams, provided that the drainage is good. Good soils for blackberry production are deep sandy loams that are moderately fertile, high in organic matter, easily worked and well drained.
Consider the possibility of winter injury when selecting planting locations. Blackberry plants often begin blooming before frost danger passes.
“Planting on slopes, or on the tops of slopes, allows cold air to drain away from the plants,” said East.
Blackberries planted on a southern slope are likely to bloom earlier than those on northern slopes. If possible, avoid planting blackberries in low-lying areas. Because air settles in low areas, blackberries planted there would be most affected by cold injury during bloom.
“While a grower might be able to do something if they confronted with this problem, freezing temperatures during bloom are always a concern,” said East.
More Information
For more information on blackberry cultivars, visit https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/crop-production/blackberry-cultivars/

Hog and goat shows are the most fun

Kalee and Margaret were grand champions at the 4-H animal show last week.
Kalee and Margaret were grand champions at the 4-H animal show last week.
Laci won Grand Championship with her goat Dixie in 4-H annual animal show.

Lauderdale 4-H Club’s annual livestock show in Lauderdale, Miss. First, we (Claire and Wayne Smith) saw our youngest granddaughter, Laci, lead her goat Dixie to become grand champion. Next, our Kalee led her pig Margeret, (I really think Margaret is a hog weighing in at 240 pounds,) to be grand champion. Submitted by By Claire Smith of Livingston Lines

First Wild Eastern Indigo Snake Found in Alabama in 60 Years

(Francesca Erickson, David Rainer) A juvenile Eastern indigo snake was recently discovered in Conecuh National Forest, which is the first evidence of reproduction in Alabama in more than 60 years. Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Traci Wood and Jim Godwin of Auburn University’s Alabama Natural Heritage Program show off the young Eastern indigo. Godwin, who has been instrumental in the reintroduction of Eastern indigos, releases an adult snake near a gopher tortoise burrow in Conecuh National Forest.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Traci Wood admitted holding the snake almost made her come unglued. No, she wasn’t afraid of the snake she was holding. It was the magnitude of the moment.

Wood, the Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, had in her hands the first wild Eastern indigo snake documented in Alabama in more than 60 years.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that I was shaking when I held that animal,” Wood said. “This is a monumental benchmark in conservation for Alabama and the southeast region for this species.

 “It’s a big deal, extremely big. It’s big for recovery efforts of a federally listed threatened species. It’s the first documentation of a wild snake in more than 60 years in Alabama. It’s proof that what we are doing through reintroduction is working and that captive snakes are acting like wild snakes after they are released.”

Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources echoed the importance of the achievement.

“I am thrilled that we have documented wild reproduction of the Eastern indigo,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It is great for the species, but I am also really happy for Traci and the staff who have worked for years to make this happen. They truly have a passion for their work, and I am so thankful for them.”

Technicians from the Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Auburn Museum of Natural History were out looking for documentation of indigo snakes as part of the long-term program to re-establish viable populations of Eastern indigos in their native habitat, mainly in longleaf pine forests in central and south Alabama.

“We try to document how long they are living, how far they are moving and how they’re doing healthwise,” Wood said. “The technicians were out and came across the snake as part of the monitoring effort. It was really no different than the monitoring we do for the released snakes. We’re out there assessing and trying to document their survival.

“There’s always the hope that we will find documentation of reproduction, and it finally happened.”

Wood said the technicians knew immediately what they had discovered when the snake was picked up.

“They knew because it was a hatchling-size snake,” she said. “It measured 2 feet in length, which is much smaller than the snakes we release from OCIC (Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation). It had no PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag or any indication we use in monitoring to indicate it was a released snake. Those released snakes are 5 feet in length or longer. They estimated the juvenile indigo at about 7 months old. It probably hatched in July or August.”

The Eastern indigo project started in 2006, and the program was able to start releasing captive-raised indigos in 2010 with 17 adult snakes released into the Conecuh National Forest. The goal is to release a total of 300 snakes to improve the chances of establishing a viable population. The project team has released 170 snakes to date. Wood said the decision-making and planning for indigo recovery through reintroductions started with late Auburn University professor Dr. Dan Speake in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s been a long process with a lot of sweat,” Wood said. “We have faced some criticism along the way. Then, when what you have hoped for happens, it’s extremely rewarding and overwhelming.”

 During the early days of the indigo project, the released snakes were propagated from indigos that had been captured in the wild in Georgia. Partners in this project include Auburn Museum of Natural History, Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Zoo Tampa, Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart, as well as the OCIC at the Central Florida Zoo, where the captive indigo breeding and health care are handled.

“We’re kind of at the halfway mark in the reintroduction,” Wood said. “It’s very exciting to see verification of reproduction at this stage of the project.

“It’s a huge testimony to the State Wildlife Grants program and working toward the recovery of a federally listed species. It is considered an experimental population. We were conducting research and making decisions that had never been done before with this species. It was a lot of groundbreaking work. Florida now has a reintroduction program, and a lot of their work is based on what we’ve done at Conecuh and lessons learned at Conecuh. Besides aquatic species, there isn’t another example of species recovery of a federally listed species through reintroductions.”

Wood said the lessons included that a learning curve is a given with a project of this magnitude and that 2-year-old snakes have a better chance of survival in the wild because they are less susceptible to predators.

“We also learned the target for the number of individuals to be released,” she said. “That is 30 individuals per year. We’ve learned that we had to establish a monitoring program that didn’t exist before. We learned it takes intense monitoring on the ground.”

One of the tools the monitoring team borrowed from the hunting community is the game camera. The game cameras have been stationed to monitor activity at gopher tortoise burrows, which are utilized by a number of animals, including indigos.

“We had to learn that a snake is not going to trigger motion sensitivity on the game cameras,” Wood said. “We set the cameras to capture a photo at intervals of 30 to 60 seconds to make sure we capture all the activity. That’s something we’ve recently started, and so far it’s proven to be very helpful. We’ve captured pictures of several indigos at burrows.

“The cameras are showing location, where they’re hanging out, how they’re using burrows and the fact adult snakes are surviving. We estimate that 60 to 80 percent of the snakes that we reintroduce will survive. That’s not bad at all after they’ve been in captivity for two years.”

Wood said it is not possible right now to estimate the total number of Eastern indigo snakes that are in the Conecuh habitat.

“These recaptures and verification of reproduction is data that will be useful in the future so that someday we may be able to predict how many individuals may be in the wild,” she said.

Wood said Eastern indigos were extirpated from the state and hadn’t been seen since the 1950s. Considered an apex predator, the snake plays an important role in the longleaf pine ecosystem. Eastern indigo snakes are the longest snakes native to the U.S. at more than 8 feet long. They prey on a variety of small mammals, amphibians, lizards and numerous species of venomous snakes, including the copperhead. Indigos are known to range far and wide during the warmer months and then seek refuge in the gopher tortoise burrows during the winter.

WFF’s State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 366 species that are in the category of greatest conservation need, according to Wood.

“Alabama is one of the most diverse states in the nation in terms of amphibians and reptiles,” she said. “Conecuh National Forest is the most biologically rich public land in the country.”

Wood is still having a little trouble grasping what happened recently at Conecuh National Forest.

“Physically holding a wild species that hasn’t been documented in Alabama in more than 60 years gives us high hopes for what we may see when we reach our goal of 300 snakes released,” she said.

Early Bird: America’s beloved Purple Martins return to Alabama

In a sure sign that spring is not far behind, the first Purple Martins of the year have been spotted in Alabama. 

The birds were seen on January 16 in the southern Alabama city of Enterprise by a Purple Martin enthusiast – one of many people throughout the eastern and central United States who track and report on the birds’ annual migration on behalf of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.

“The first Purple Martin arrivals of the season are always an exciting event,” said Joe Siegrist, President of the Purple Martin Conservation Association. “Tracking the migration is not only fun, it also provides us with valuable information that helps inform our research and strengthen our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything possible to sustain the population of these amazing birds.”

North America’s largest species of swallow, Purple Martins winter in the rainforests of Brazil before making up to a 7000-mile migration north into the eastern United States and Canada.  

The annual migration is a testament to the martins’ resilience as well as the unwavering dedication of thousands of ‘martin landlords’ who maintain multi-compartment nest ‘condos’ that are essential for the birds’ survival. Once widespread in rural America, this species, that eats billions of flying insects annually, has been disappearing at an alarming rate, experiencing a loss of one-third of its population over the last 50 years. 

“The decline seems to be the combination of a few factors: nesting habitat loss, competing invasive species, decreasing prey availability, and climate change,” said Siegrist. “Over the majority of the Purple Martins’ range, they are unable to nest naturally any longer. Human-provided nest boxes are the only thing keeping the species alive east of the Rocky Mountains.”

Siegrist says the very survival of the species is due in large part to scores of dedicated conservationists who invest their time, money and hearts into maintaining housing for the martins. 

“The landlords provide critical shelter for the martins,” Siegrist said. “In return, they are rewarded with a family-like bond with the birds who return to the same colony year after year like clockwork.”

To follow along with the Purple Martins’ migration and learn more about how you can help conserve this treasured bird, visit www.purplemartin.org. In addition, people interested in learning more about how to attract and care for Purple Martins can receive a free booklet by contacting the Purple Martin Conservation Association by emailing info@purplemartin.org or calling 814-833-7656.

Wyatt Puckett bagged his first deer. He is the son of Michael and Wende Puckett and grandson of Sally and Jon Long, and Donna and Tommy Puckett, and great grandson of Lou and Jimmy Guin, and Claire and Wayne Smith. Submitted by Claire Smith

State Public Fishing Lakes Reopen in February

Left to Right: Kason Bozeman, Kolby Bozeman and Kolton Meeks recently had a successful day of fishing at Escambia County State Public Fishing Lake in Wing, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Doug & Allie’s Fishing Post at Escambia County State Public Fishing Lake (also known as Leon Brooks Hines Lake)

February 1 marks the beginning of fishing season for 22 of Alabama’s 23 State-owned Public Fishing Lakes. Located throughout the state, these lakes are noted for their quality fishing for bream, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie (in most lakes). Because these smaller lakes warm more quickly than larger bodies of water, early spring fishing can be excellent.
Washington County Public Fishing Lake remains closed while restocking efforts are underway.
Fishing is an affordable and easily accessible recreational opportunity for all Alabamians. Each State Public Fishing Lake offers boats for rent ($5) and launching of private fishing boats ($3). A daily permit and state fishing license are required to fish in the lakes. Anglers may fish from the pier, bank, rental boat or personal boat.
“Alabama’s public fishing lakes are a great family fishing destination,” said Jonathan Brown, Public Fishing Lake Biologist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “Not only do the lakes offer great fishing, they have concession buildings with snacks, drinks, restrooms, and personnel who can provide fishing advice.”
The WFF Fisheries Section carefully stocks and manages the lakes for optimum fishing. The lakes are also fertilized to maximize fish production and fishing piers allow anglers easy access to deeper water.
In addition to traditional freshwater game species such as largemouth bass and crappie, WFF also stocks rainbow trout in both Madison and Walker county lakes during winter.
No General Fund money is used to operate Alabama’s State Public Fishing Lakes. Anglers pay for the management of the lakes through license fees, excise taxes on certain outdoors equipment, and daily fishing permits.
Anglers can call their district fisheries office for specific information about the types of fish and average sizes caught at each lake. Contact information: District 1 in Tanner, Ala., 256-353-2634; District 2 in Eastaboga, Ala., 256-831-6860; District 3 in Northport, Ala., 205-339-5716; District 4 in Enterprise, Ala. 334-347-9467; District 5 in Spanish Fort, Ala., 251-626-5153.
Before traveling to a State Public Fishing Lake, anglers should call ahead to determine the operational schedule. A complete list of state lakes and contact information can be found in the fishing section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website, www.outdooralabama.com.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Special Waterfowl Hunting Day on February 8

Youth hunters Ethan Patterson and Cole McGrady had a successful hunt at the Swan Creek Wildlife Management Area in Limestone County during one of two special waterfowl hunting days this season.

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) has designated Saturday, February 8, 2020, as the second of the 2019-20 hunting season’s Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. The first of the two special waterfowl hunting days took place November 23, 2019.

On February 8, youth under age 16 who are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter, military personnel on active duty and veterans (as defined in section 101 of U.S. Code: Title 38) may hunt for waterfowl statewide. Regular waterfowl season shooting hours, bag limits, legal arms and ammunitions apply to the special days. Hunting area rules and regulations also apply.

To participate in the hunt, youth must be accompanied by a licensed adult supervisor. Only one firearm will be allowed per youth and only the youth hunters will be permitted to utilize the firearm for hunting unless the adult meets the requirements of a veteran or active duty military personnel. The adult supervisor must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times and may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt. The adult is also expected to review the rules of firearm safety and hunter ethics with each youth and ensure they are followed.

Youth is defined as an individual age 15 years and younger. Adult is defined as an individual age 21 years and older, or as the parent of the youth. The adult must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamp and a free Harvest Information Program registration. Veterans and active duty military personnel must be in possession of a valid proof of service such as a military ID, Veterans Administration ID, veteran ID, veteran validation on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD Form 214. Possession of the mandatory hunting licenses and stamps is also required.

For more information about the Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days, contact WFF Migratory Gamebird Coordinator Seth Maddox at Seth.Maddox@dcnr.alabama.gov or 334-242-3469, or visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Dwindling Loggerhead Shrike Numbers Concern Researchers

Bill Summerour, Bob Farley) Although central and south Alabama has a decent number of loggerhead shrikes, the birds have significantly declined in north Alabama.
The Loggerhead Shrike Working Group is banding birds to try to understand the decline. Alabama State Lands’ Eric Soehren prepares to band a shrike that was captured on Dauphin Island. Shrikes often attach their prey to a thorn or barbed-wire fence.
Shrike Working Group

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Appearing like a miniature version of a mockingbird, the loggerhead shrike looks like any other songbird until you find evidence of the shrike’s lethal side.

“Some people call them butcher birds or French mockingbirds,” said Eric Soehren, biologist and manager of the Alabama State Lands’ Wehle Land Conservation Center in southeast Alabama. “They may look similar to a mockingbird, but they are very different in many ways. The shrike is a predatory songbird. They prey on a variety of small animals and can even kill birds heavier than they are. Many times, you’ll see their larders, which is where they have skewered their prey on a thorn or barbed wire. That’s where the butcher bird name comes from. It’s a songbird, but it’s an efficient killing machine.”

Although common in the mid-20th century, the loggerhead shrike has become a species of greatest conservation need because of declining numbers throughout its range. Soehren said the bird has a very wide distribution across the continent, but numbers in latitudes north of a Missouri-Kentucky-Virginia line have plummeted. Where it used to be a common species, the birds are now only found in small and isolated populations.

Fortunately in the South, sizable numbers of these birds still remain, despite not being as numerous in places like Alabama and Mississippi.

In response to that decline, the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group (www.loggerheadshrike.org) was formed by researchers in Canada and the United States, made up of specialists who have studied the shrike as well as personnel from the non-game sections of state conservation agencies.

“One of their primary tasks is shrike conservation, monitoring trends, habitat management on conservation lands on a state-by-state basis,” Soehren said. “Places like Indiana, West Virginia and Virginia have contributed to this for quite some time. However, states in the Southeast have not been a part of this until more recently.”

Soehren said the group’s goal is to identify the problems affecting the shrike and why the species is declining. He said it’s likely a combination of impacts, like habitat alteration, pesticides and nest predation.

“The group is trying to use modern science on a comprehensive scale to identify these needs,” he said. “One of the biologists in Virginia reached out to us in Alabama and asked if we would participate in the group, first because we have a lot of shrikes, relatively speaking, and because they didn’t have a lot of representation in the Southeast.”

To further involve Alabama, the technical working group asked that the annual meeting be held in the state. That meeting was held last spring at the Birmingham Zoo. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was represented by Soehren, along with Carrie Threadgill and Mercedes Bartkovich from Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Non-Game Wildlife Section.

“One of the fundamental things of monitoring wildlife is to mark individuals, whether by banding, ear-tagging or radio collars in animals like deer,” Soehren said. “The idea is to see what happens to that individual animal during a course of time – their movements, their habitat use, longevity and survivorship. This has been going on all over the state.

“One of the things we’re looking at is the movements of the species. They are short-distance migrants. Birds that breed in the northern limits of their distribution range migrate south in the winter. A lot of the birds that come into north Alabama in the fall and winter are northern birds.”

Soehren said several state agencies have made a significant effort to band as many shrikes as possible. While the members of the working group are actively monitoring, the group also depends on the public to help with the effort.

“The idea is if you see a banded bird, report it,” he said.

A banding scheme with different color combinations was devised to provide re-sighting opportunities for researchers and casual observers. Birds banded in each state are assigned unique colored bands, making it easy to determine where the bird originated. A master list of color combinations for bands is compiled and managed by the group for identification.

“If a bird is sighted with color bands, there is a master list that can be used to say, ‘Oh, this bird was spotted in Alabama but banded in Virginia,” said Soehren, who said the master list is reserved for the researchers.

Another aspect of the banding is being able to identify individual birds during the breeding cycle, like a paired male and female.

“A lot of the loss is likely happening at the nest,” Soehren said. “Pairs are nesting, raising young, but one of the critical aspects is that recruitment is falling below critical mass. It looks like a lot of the birds are not surviving through the first year. They may fledge, but they’re just not surviving.

“To better understand what’s going on, the birds are banded and monitored through the entire nesting process. It’s kind of a laborious effort, but if you have a good eye for finding nests, it will help us monitor these nests through the duration from nest building to fledging, and watching what the fledglings do afterwards.”

The working group is also collecting feathers and blood samples for genetics work to study the complexity of shrike populations across the continent.

“Understanding what population is where and how populations are mixing has conservation merit and bearing,” Soehren said. “If a population is found to be genetically unique, it deserves more immediate protection efforts than the populations that are more widespread and common.”

The working group is also developing models for locality and habitat use that will provide information on the areas more likely to harbor shrikes so state agencies can prioritize conservation efforts.

“We’re at the beginning stages of better understanding shrikes in Alabama,” Soehren said. “We’re kind of limited by the number of people who can work with this species. The public can go out and identify these birds. What’s really been nice is eBird (ebird.org), which has been a wonderful tool. People provide sightings at specific locations. That provides a snapshot of distribution, not only in Alabama, but around the continent.”

Soehren already knows that shrike populations have significantly declined in north Alabama, compared to the numbers seen in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Something is going on in the Tennessee Valley region compared to the rest of the state,” Soehren said. “Places like the Black Belt region and along the Gulf Coast still have sizeable numbers of shrikes.”

Despite limited resources, members of Alabama’s shrike group go out and opportunistically capture shrikes under agency permits.

“We’ve taken the approach that we’re going to band birds where there are a lot of birds present,” Soehren said. “We’re going to band in areas where people can re-sight these birds and report them. We’ve talked to birders about adopting areas to monitor banded shrikes. A lot of times, they already know where paired birds nest. If the birds are banded, these birders can be our eyes and share that information with us because we do not have the staffing resources to monitor consistently. We have to rely on others to help us with that information.”

One of the hotspots for shrike activity is Dauphin Island, the barrier island south of Mobile. Dauphin Island has a dedicated birding community, and the island has numerous bird sanctuaries. Lakepoint State Park near Eufaula is also another location with a significant shrike population.

“Birds banded at Dauphin Island are a good example of the public helping with the monitoring,” Soehren said. “There are about four or five nesting pairs on the island, so there are quite a few shrikes down there.”

Soehren was on the island for an Alabama Ornithological Society meeting and took the opportunity to bring his trapping gear.

“I was able to capture and band two birds really quickly,” he said. “We banded them in October. Since that time, we’ve had two separate birders report them to the Bird-Banding Lab (www.reportband.gov), which is what you’re supposed to do when you see a banded bird.”

Although Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count has recently been completed, Soehren said anyone can help give the agencies a picture of the local bird populations during the winter.

“The Christmas Bird Count provides overall population information and reveals changes in distribution and abundance over time,” Soehren said. “Many species have declined significantly, some meriting listing on the Alabama State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). But there are also examples of increases. The North American waterfowl populations have increased over 50% since 1970 due to a lot of the management efforts throughout their range. Revenues derived from the sale of duck stamps and hunting licenses have been reinvested in land conservation. We have bigger bag limits and longer seasons as a result.

“What’s great about the Christmas Bird Count is it’s open to anybody and everybody interested in birds. It’s not just for experienced birders. Everybody can get involved. If you’re a retiree just watching feeders, it all goes into the big pot of information. It helps us at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource s in our effort with non-game species.”

Visit www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count for information on how you can participate next winter.

Stop Committing Crape Murder

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – This time of year, too many crape myrtles are slaughtered. Homeowners go wild pruning these trees, possibly damaging and stunting their growth and beauty.
Crape myrtles are a popular choice because of the bright bloom colors of red, white, pink or purple. Pruning crape myrtles correctly is essential for these qualities to flourish in the tree.
Sadly, the wrong pruning techniques happen most often with crape myrtle trees. That is why many have called this practice crape murder. Gardeners often do not know how to properly prune their crape myrtles and end up doing what everyone else in the neighborhood does.
Crape myrtles come in all different sizes ranging from four to 40 feet. Dani Carroll, an Alabama Extension home grounds regional agent, said a common mistake gardeners make is planting large crape myrtles in flower beds.
“People don’t realize that crape myrtles are trees, not shrubs,” Carroll said, “They must be planted and pruned according to their size.”
Knowing and executing the correct pruning technique helps make trees and shrubs healthier and more productive.
“Always prune with a purpose,” Carroll said. “Never prune just because it is the right time of year.”
Pruning should only be done if the tree is in need of reshaping, if branches are rubbing against each other, creating wounds or if parts of the tree are dead or diseased. The right time of year to prune crap myrtles is in late winter. However, if the tree has dead or diseased wood, the limbs can be pruned at any time of year.
Carroll offers the following tips for pruning this winter.
• Use hand pruners for pruning limbs less than 1 inch in diameter
• Use lopping pruners for pruning limbs up to 2 inches in diameter
• A pruning saw is the best tool for pruning any branches more than 2 inches in diameter.
There is still hope for stopping crape murder. Now is the time to correct past hurts on crape myrtle trees and prune them to enhance what they have to offer.
Have a gardening question? Call the Master Gardener helpline. To reach the help line, dial 1-877-252-GROW (4769). For more information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension home grounds agent.
By Ann Chambliss

WFF’s Rut Map Gives Hunters Useful Planning Tool

Mason Hughes took this trophy buck at the William R. Ireland/Cahaba River WMA.
Donnie Toole bagged this huge buck at the Skyline Wildlife Management Area in north Alabama.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Depending on where they pursue white-tailed deer, hunters in Alabama may be experiencing a wide range of deer breeding activity from pre-rut, and peak rut to post-rut.

Studies by wildlife professionals indicate that rutting activity is most closely associated with the heritage of the deer in a particular area. The diversity of breeding activity, known as the rut, is a result of stocking efforts early in the 20th century, when deer populations in Alabama were in dire straits. Overharvest and a lack of game management had isolated deer to pockets around the state, mainly in southwest Alabama.

Restocking efforts included trapping and relocating deer from southwest Alabama, mainly from the Clarke County area, as well as bringing in deer from other parts of the United States. Deer were transported from Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.

For the most part, the transplanted deer maintained their native rutting activity, which means Alabama hunters can hunt the rut in one part of the state or another for most of deer season.

The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division has developed a resource that provides a quick guide for expected rutting activity in your particular area. The Alabama Deer Rut Map, available at www.outdooralabama.com/sites/default/files/Hunting/Deer%20Hunting/2019%20Alabama%20WFF%20Deer%20Rut%20Map.pdf provides a user-friendly way to find the timetable for rutting activity around the state.

WFF Director Chuck Sykes said the rut map was produced by WFF staff under the direction of Deer Program Coordinator Chris Cook and Assistant Wildlife Chief Amy Silvano.

“The map is based on historic stocking information, the herd health assessment we do in the spring and our fetal collections,” Sykes said. “Basically, you can look at that map, and, unlike most other states, we have multiple ruts based on our historic stocking.

“If you go hunt in Illinois, every deer in the state will be rutting the first 10 days to two weeks of November, depending on where you are in the state and the gene source of that herd. In Alabama, you can hunt the rut in November, December, January and February.”

Sykes said that provides Alabama hunters a unique opportunity to hunt the rut for most of deer season if they follow the map and are willing to travel to different parts of the state. Although hunters may have their own definition of the rut, whether it’s building scrapes or bucks chasing does, Sykes said the map is based on fetal studies that pinpoint when the does were actually bred.

“That map corresponds with a ton of public hunting land,” he said. “Some of the WMAs (wildlife management areas) have bonus bucks where it doesn’t count against your state three-buck limit. Some of the WMAs that have that early rut will actually have a couple of days of gun season before regular gun season comes in. There’s a lot of opportunity for someone.

“Honestly, you can use that map to plot your hunting for next year. You can look at the map and see when the rut is expected at the Oakmulgee and Choccolocco WMAs or Bankhead National Forest, and you can plan you some time off to hunt those WMAs during that time period. You don’t have to all your time off during January. You can take some in November, some in December and a little more in January, and you can hunt three different peak ruts.”  

I received an email recently from a hunter who, after looking the rut map, wondered if he could have deer on his hunting property with different genetic backgrounds. The answer is yes.

Sykes has a perfect example of one location where deer rutted at different times on the same piece of property. Before he became WFF Director, Sykes managed a hunting plantation in Lee County on the Georgia border.

“On one piece of the property, the deer had come over from Georgia and rutted the first week of December,” he said. “Across the road on the other side of the property, it was the traditional, late-rut Alabama deer. So you could hunt the peak rut on that one 5,000-acre piece of property multiple times. You had the rut the first week of December. Then the does that didn’t get bred during that first cycle came back in during the first 10 days of January. Then the Alabama deer kicked in about the 15th to 20th of January. Even before the February extension, we could actually hunt three different phases of the rut on that one piece of property.”

Social media has once again this season been filled with photos of huge bucks that have been taken across the state, several from some of the more popular WMAs.

Sykes said most likely those big deer were taken in areas other than food plots.

“From my personal experience, we had a bumper acorn crop,” Sykes said of his hunting land in west central Alabama. “Until last week when the (Tombigbee) river came up, the deer weren’t using the food plots much. They were staying in the woods because they had plenty to eat. From what I understand, it was hit or miss throughout the state. In the areas with really good acorn crops, the people who went in the woods to hunt killed some really good deer.”

Sykes said he wouldn’t be surprised if the deer activity shifted toward the wildlife openings in the next few weeks.

“We’ve had so much water lately, and the acorns are being thinned out, so I think the activity around the food plots will kick in a little stronger,” he said. “But I’m excited about that tremendous acorn crop. The turkeys ought to be fat as pigs come springtime because they had plenty of acorns to fatten up on. And the wood ducks too. In fact, I took Syd (his dog) and killed a limit of wood ducks on a water oak flat that was under water. It was full of acorns and full of ducks.”

Thankfully, very little news has developed on chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer so far this season. CWD-positive deer have been confirmed in Mississippi and Tennessee, but Alabama is making every effort to keep the disease out of the state through strict enforcement of the ban on the importation of deer carcasses.

Alabama hunters still have the opportunity to have their harvested deer sampled at locations around the state. WFF has set up freezers in strategic locations to accept the samples. Visit https://www.outdooralabama.com/cwd-sampling for a list of freezer locations.

The instructions to have the animal tested are:

  • To prepare the sample for drop off at one of the self-service locations, hunters must first remove the deer’s head leaving 4-6 inches of neck attached.
  • Once the head is removed, place it in the provided plastic bag and tie it closed. For bucks, antlers can be removed at the base of each antler or by removing the skull plate before bagging the head. 
  • Complete all sections of the Biological Sample Tag and attach it to the bag with a zip tie.
  • Remove and retain the bottom receipt portion of the Biological Sample Tag before placing the bagged head in the freezer.

Hunters will receive the results of the samples within three to four weeks.

25th Annual Beekeeping Symposium Set for Feb. 1

A lot of people are buzzing about the 25th Annual Beekeeping Symposium. At this year’s symposium, beekeepers with all levels of expertise have the chance to expand their knowledge. The symposium is Saturday, Feb. 1 from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Clanton Conference and Performing Arts Center in Clanton, Alabama. There is a fee to attend the workshop until Jan. 18. After this, registration will be at the door only and will increase. To complete early registration, visit the Alabama Extension Store online or print and complete the mail in registration form. The printed form should be mailed to: Lindsey Tramel, ACES, 107 Comer Hall, Auburn University, Alabama 36849-5635.
The symposium will feature many speakers, including two keynote speakers, Meghan Milbrath and Jennifer Tsuruda. Milbrath is a Michigan State Extension academic specialist and will discuss anatomical adaptions of honeybees. She will also provide up-to-date information on swarm biology and management. Tsuruda is a University of Tennessee Extension apiculturist and will speak on using photography to improve inspection, the basics of honey bee nutrition and responsible beekeeping. Throughout the day other Extension specialists, graduate students, assistant professors, beekeepers and more will present a variety of information on producing, running and managing a bee operation. For more information on the 25thAnnual Beekeeping Symposium, contact Lindsey Tramel at lat0025@auburn.edu, visit the Alabama Beekeepers Association website.The symposium also includes a program for beginning beekeepers to learn how to successfully start a bee operation. Members of the Alabama Beekeepers Association and master beekeepers will present information to help beginning beekeepers best develop their skills and their operations: What Should I Expect During My First Year?– Scott Lucas; What Tools Do I Need?– Allyson Andrews; What Equipment Do I Need?– Damon Wallace; How Long Do Bees Live?– Troy Latham; What Is Making My Bees Sick?– Keith Fletcher; What Mistakes Will I Make?– Kate Pugh.

Game warden offers one time immunity deal  Protected bald eagle feathers taken; if caught, pay $100,000 fine, go to jail

By Tommy McGraw

Publisher

A person or persons who took parts from a dead bald eagle in Livingston could face jail time and a $100,000 fine.

Game Warden Jeff Shaw reported that a foot and several tail feathers were taken from a carcass of an American bald eagle sometime after the bird was killed in the city limits of Livingston Thursday, Dec. 12.

The bird was accidentally struck by a vehicle on Alabama Highway 28, east of Livingston, near the Bluffport Road exit. Another driver reported the dead bird lying beside the highway to the Livingston Police Department. Livingston PD called Shaw, and Shaw said before he arrived to take possession of the federally protected bird carcass someone had taken a foot and several feathers from the bird.

The white-headed mature bald eagle is a federally protected bird, and those removing parts or killing a bird can face up to a $250,000 fine. Shaw said each part removed can fetch as  low as $5,000 per offense. Shaw said the person who has the parts can pay up to $5,000 per feather and be jailed for a first-time offense.

Shaw estimated that the person or persons who removed the foot and eight or nine feathers face a “ticking time bomb.”

“There are only three feathers left, and a mature bald eagle can grow up to twelve long tail feathers. He may have lost some, but not eight or nine feathers. The foot was cut off with a sharp object, and he [eagle] did not lose it in the accident,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the bird was at least five years old because the eagle species “does not grow their white head feathers until they are that old.”

Shaw said the eagle was huge and had a wingspan that covered the back of his state-issued Alabama Conservation truck bed.

“This is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” Shaw said of the impending possibility that the person who has the parts in his possession will be turned in or that they may be stopped for some other offense and will be arrested for having the eagle body parts. 

“I want to offer a one time deal so the person(s), if they are not aware of the severity of having the eagle foot and feathers in their possession, to turn them in anonymously and not be arrested.”

Conservation Officer Shaw said the Alabama Department of Conservation works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who in turn operates the National Eagle Repository as a clearinghouse for eagles and eagle parts to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers for religious use.

“If someone knows who has the feathers and foot, I urge you to call the Livingston Police at 205-652-9525 or Alabama Game Watch’s phone number at 1-800-272-4263. I also urge the person or persons who took the parts to turn them into the Record-Journal newspaper anonymously or the Livingston Police Department.

“The alternative is, if the person is caught, they will be arrested, and it will be very expensive to pay for all the fines.”

Shaw said the bird had no broken wings, leg, or any other indication it was even struck by a vehicle, “unless it was hit in the head,” Shaw added.

Shaw said the eagle was apparently feeding on a deer carcass on the side of the roadway and it is believed a driver accidentally struck and killed the eagle and left the scene not knowing what type of bird they struck. Whoever took the eagle parts came along after the initial accident and removed the foot and feathers, Shaw surmised.

Livingston Police Chief Roger Tolliver confirmed Shaw’s assesment of the events.

Tolliver said he was working in the area when the initial call came in. “The person who reported it to me met me at the scene, and we looked at the bird but didn’t move it. I only saw the one leg and thought the second one was under the bird and just not visible. The foot and feathers  must have been taken sometime before the person reported the dead bird to LPD.

“The man said he saw the bird feeding on the deer on Tuesday and saw it almost get hit then by a pickup traveling in front of him. The man told me, ‘I said to myself, ‘somebody is going to hit that eagle sooner or later.’ And, sure enough they did,” said Chief Tolliver.

Bald eagles are no longer considered endangered, but they are protected under the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“When I was growing up there were no bald eagles in Alabama,” said Shaw. “Today, however, they are seen almost in every county. I am hoping the person or persons who cut the leg off the bird and took the feathers are just not aware of the major consequences they could face. That is why I am offering them this one time deal.”

The bald eagle, the United States national bird, is the most recognizable raptor in the United States. Decades ago, the bald eagle was endangered due to DDT, a dangerous pesticide that contaminated fish, the bird’s main food source. The Endangered Species Act and the banning of DDT are the two main reasons this species has made a remarkable recovery and can now be spotted frequently in Alabama skies.

Fines and the law

Anyone who possesses an eagle feather or another part, and doesn’t meet the requirements, could face fines up to $100,000 and a year in prison. A second offense is upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony and carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Possession of Eagle 

Feathers and Parts by 

Native Americans

According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, eagles are directly protected under two federal laws, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  These laws generally prohibit the possession, use, and sale of eagle feathers and parts as well as a number of other activities. 

Such restrictions help ensure the future viability of eagles in the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, has long recognized the religious and cultural significance of eagles to Native Americans and works to accommodate these special needs. The Service operates the National Eagle Repository as a clearinghouse for eagles and eagle parts to provide Native Americans with eagle feathers for religious use. The Repository collects dead eagles salvaged by Federal and State agencies, zoos, and other organizations.  Enrolled members of federally recognized tribes (as established under the Federally Recognized Tribal List Act of 1994, 25 U.S.C. Section 479a, 108 Stat. 4791) may obtain a permit from the Service authorizing them to receive and possess eagle feathers and parts from the Repository.  

Permit applications must include certification of tribal enrollment from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Because demand is high, waiting periods exist. Native Americans may also legally possess eagle feathers and parts acquired through certain other means.  Such items include any owned before eagles were first protected by Federal law (1940 for bald eagles, and 1962 for golden eagles) and feathers and parts passed down within a family or received as gifts from other Native Americans. Native Americans may wear feathers legally in their possession or make them into religious or cultural items for their own or tribal use.

They may transfer feathers to tribal craftsmen to be fashioned into such objects; no money may be received for the feathers, but craftsmen may be compensated for their work. Native Americans may give feathers or other eagle items as gifts to other Native Americans and may hand them down within their families.  They may not, however, give them to non-Native Americans.  No person — including Native Americans — may kill or capture eagles without a permit from the Service. Nor may anyone buy, sell, barter, trade, import, or export eagle feathers or items made from them.  These prohibitions cover all feathers and parts, including those that “pre-date” Federal protections and others that are legally possessed.  (Native Americans, however, can obtain permits to travel overseas with eagle items for religious use.) Service law enforcement efforts focus on the illegal take and commercial exploitation of eagles by anyone attempting to profit at the expense of these birds.  Service officers who encounter individuals with noncommercial quantities of eagle feathers that are being used as personal or religious items will generally take no action if the individuals possess a valid Service permit or reasonably demonstrate that they are enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe. The production of a certificate of enrollment card would be one way for individuals to easily document their tribal affiliation, but this is not a legal requirement. An individual’s possession of such a card would, of course, tend to facilitate the resolution of any questions about the legality of his or her ownership and personal use of eagle feathers.

Pierce Edmonds, age 6, killed is first deer on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Submitted by Mary Grace Edmonds
This 350-400 pound wild hog was killed by Rennie Huff on yesterday 12-11 in Gainesville

75 million-year-old sea turtle fossil discovery is a new genus and species that sheds light on the evolution of its modern relatives

Scientists are racing to determine which genealogy most accurately represents the evolutionary history of sea turtles — a challenging proposition

Paleontologists in Alabama have announced the discovery of a new genus and species of fossil sea turtle that may fill an important gap in the evolution of sea turtles.

Scientists named the animal Asmodochelys parhami for Asmodeus, a deity that, according to Islamic lore, was entombed in stone at the bottom of the sea, and ‘parhami’ in honor of James F. Parham, former curator of Paleontology at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, for his many contributions to Alabama paleontology.

According to the study, Asmodochelys parhami swam the oceans approximately 75 million years ago and may have been one of the most recent common ancestors of modern sea turtles.

“The origin story of sea turtles is one of the great unsolved mysteries in evolutionary biology,” said Drew Gentry, a College of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study. “There is a great deal of evidence indicating that turtles may have evolved to live in the ocean several times over the past 150 million years. The trick is determining which of those species are actually the direct ancestors of the species we see today.”

MORE: Grad student uncovers Alabama fossils likely from oldest ancestor of modern sea turtles

To determine how A. parhami is related to present-day sea turtles, scientists performed a phylogenetic analysis. It is a method that compares the features of many different species of turtle to figure out how closely or distantly related those species may be. The analysis results in a phylogenetic tree, or genealogy, of sea turtles.

According to the results of the study, A. parhami is one of the youngest species to fall just outside of the group containing every species of modern sea turtle. This makes A. parhami of particular interest in the study of the sea turtle origins.

“Although it’s tempting to say ‘problem solved’ when we recover such a well resolved tree, this is only one hypothesis in a long line of suggested sea turtle genealogies,” Gentry said. “Right now, there are several distinct trees proposed by different groups of scientists that are the front-runners in the race to solve sea turtle evolution, each with its own unique arrangement of fossil and modern species. Determining which tree most accurately represents the evolutionary history of these animals can be challenging, to say the least.”

In an effort to test the accuracy of each tree, Gentry and his colleagues examined which of the currently proposed sea turtle genealogies most accurately fits the fossil record. That is to say, if the genealogy indicates that a certain species evolved first, does that species actually show up first in the fossil record?

MORE: New species of ancient sea turtle unearthed in Alabama

Drew Gentry’s scholarly pursuit, which led to the discovery of a new genus and species of fossil sea turtle, is an example of the growth and diversity of UAB’s research efforts through scholarship, a key component of Forging the Future.”

Surprisingly, Gentry discovered that, although his proposed genealogy matched up relatively well with the fossil record, it was not the best fit. “Actually, a phylogeny proposed more than a decade ago matched nearly perfectly with the fossil record,” Gentry said. “The problem with that analysis was that it didn’t include nearly as many species as subsequent analyses, which may have influenced the results.”

Despite scientists around the world working on the problem of sea turtle evolution for more than a century, Gentry thinks there is still much to be learned.

“New methods for testing how fossil species are related to modern species are constantly being developed. Also, discoveries of new fossils have the potential to radically change our understanding of how certain features and species evolved in the history of life on our planet,” Gentry said. “Our study is just another piece of evidence in an ongoing mystery that shows no sign of being solved any time soon.”  

The study, titled “Asmodochelys parhami, a new fossil sea turtle from the Campanian Demopolis Chalk and the stratigraphic congruence of competing marine turtle phylogenies,” was published in the open access journal Royal Society Open Science.

ADCNR Named Agency of Year at Sportsmen’s Caucus Summit

ADCNR, Billy Pope, David Rainer) Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes accepts the Agency of the Year award for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at the NASC Summit recently. Joining Sykes are, from left, Bee Frederick, Rep. Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley) and Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens).
The ADCNR was presented the award because of its work on chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and the effective state management of the red snapper season.

By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recently received special recognition by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation with the presentation of the State Agency of the Year Award at the 16th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Greensboro, Georgia.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is honored to recognize the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as the State Agency of the Year,” said Jeff Crane, CSF President. “The DCNR has been a consistent supporter of CSF, NASC, and the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and, through this support, the Caucus in Alabama has grown tremendously to become a strong and effective voice for sportsmen and women.

“CSF thanks Commissioner Chris Blankenship, Deputy Commissioner Ed Poolos, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes for their continued support and steadfast dedication to Alabama’s vast natural resources.”

Hosted by the CSF, this year’s Summit brought together 50 legislators and leaders from state fish and wildlife agencies to discuss the theme “Partners Advancing America’s Conservation Movement: NASC, Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Industry and NGOs.” Topics discussed included promoting hunting and fishing, boating access, chronic wasting disease (CWD), the spread of invasive Asian carp and a variety of other issues affecting sportsmen and women.

“This is the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators who come together to discuss issues that are of great importance to our hunting and angling traditions,” Crane said. “The 16th Annual NASC Summit was successful in that it brought together our bipartisan caucus leaders and members, fish and wildlife agency leaders, NGO (non-governmental organizations) representatives, and leading industry partners to focus on how to advance opportunities for sportsmen and women and to ensure sound, science-driven conservation policies are enacted.”

DCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship said he was elated that the Department was awarded the CSF’s State Agency of the Year.

“We were very happy that we were recognized for multiple initiatives by the Department,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Foundation noted several reasons for the recognition, starting with Marine Resources Division Director Scott Bannon and all the work that has been done with red snapper. Alabama has been the leader in securing the state management of red snapper. The work we did in Congress helped inform the legislators on the issues on the Gulf Coast with the short seasons. We were able to work with the congressional delegations in Washington to implement the exempted fishing program (EFP) for the past two years and then win approval of management for the long-term.”

The EFP was in effect for the 2018 and 2019 red snapper seasons. Each of the Gulf states was given a snapper allocation, and each state managed its allocation.

Alabama’s quota was slightly more than a million pounds of red snapper in each of the two years of the EFP. The timely data from the mandatory Alabama Snapper Check program allowed Marine Resources to manage to the quota each year.

This year the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed regional management of red snapper. That amendment is awaiting the signature of the Secretary of Commerce and will go into effect for 2020 and beyond.

“The Foundation also recognized the work that Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Director Chuck Sykes is doing with Senator (Doug) Jones (D-Alabama) and Senator (Cindy) Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) concerning funding for CWD research as well as the work Chuck is doing as the president of SEAFWA (Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) on a myriad of hunting and fishing initiatives,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “We have also worked with Senator (Richard) Shelby (R-Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, Senator (Lamar) Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Senator (Mitch) McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Asian carp issues. We want to reduce Asian carp populations in Tennessee and Kentucky rivers and keep them contained in the rivers upstream that flow into Alabama.”

WFF’s Sykes said a great deal of the recognition from the CSF was due to Alabama’s willingness to meet and discuss the issues that are facing the nation’s sportsmen and women.

“The Department has allowed me to come to the CSF’s Summits to share a variety of programs we are doing,” said Sykes, who also serves on the executive committee of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “I’ve spoken at three of the last four events. The hunting and fishing days that the Department has promoted were mentioned as well as our CWD response plan and major educational campaign.

“The Foundation said they appreciated the time I had taken to come and participate in roundtable discussions with legislators around the country on important issues, from funding to our R3 efforts.”

The R3 effort stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Those R3 activities try to recruit new participants or increase participation rates of current or lapsed outdoor enthusiasts.

Sykes also said the Foundation recognized the contributions of the WFF’s Special Opportunity Area (SOA) and adult mentored hunting programs, programs in the Alabama Black Belt and the promotion of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Day annually to help educate legislators on outdoors issues and improve Caucus participation and increase Caucus membership.

“Our legislators were happy to see the Department recognized,” Sykes said.

Commissioner Blankenship said the State Lands Division, under Director Patti McCurdy, contributed through its efforts to expand public boating access in Alabama. McCurdy has worked with the staffs in D.C. to continue to promote recreational access funding in Coastal Alabama. Through several funding sources, improvements to boating and angling access are planned for Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County, and the Middleton Causeway site on Battleship Parkway at the north end of Mobile Bay, Foley and Daphne.

Commissioner Blankenship also cited the work of Bee Frederick, who was the CSF’s representative in Alabama until recently, for holding annual events in Montgomery to promote the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“Bee was very helpful in getting the legislators more involved in hunting and fishing issues and helping us provide the scientific and management information to make informed decisions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Caucus’ legislative agenda has been very helpful for the Department and people who hunt and fish in Alabama.

“The award highlights the work we do in Washington and in Montgomery with the Alabama Legislature. I think those relationships we built in Washington and here at the State House are very valuable when issues come up that affect sportsmen and women. We can pick up the phone and discuss the issues with the legislators or their staff. I think we have built a great amount of trust that we will provide them with balanced information so they can make good decisions.”

Other than naming the Alabama DCNR as State Agency of the Year, the CSF handed out several other awards at the Georgia Summit.

The Friends of NASC Award went to Shimano American Corp. and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

NASC Heritage Awards were presented to Rep. David Wilson (CT), Sen. Mike Bell (TN), Sen. Mark Allen (OK), and Rep. Casey Snider (UT).

During the Summit, CSF announced the signing of a partnership with Birmingham-based B.A.S.S. to further conservation efforts. Safari Club International (SCI) was also recognized for its long-standing financial support of NASC and the annual summit.  

Founded in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation was formed to work with Congress, governors, and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.

Holiday Decorating With Nature

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Nature can provide some of the best materials for decorating. Fall is an especially wonderful time to find materials outside to decorate a home for the holiday seasons. Many items such as trees, shrubs, plants and fruits are great materials to build show-stopping decorations.

Materials

“Evergreen tree and shrub species make excellent decorations for fall and can withstand the elements,” said Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and pests regional agent. “These evergreen species include ivy, Leyland Cypress, pine and viburnum.”

Other outdoor materials to consider using include:

  • acorns and pecans
  • pine cones
  • holly and nandina berries
  • hydrangea blossoms
  • cotton bolls
  • lotus and magnolia seed pods
  • pyracantha
  • reindeer moss
  • rose hips

Holiday Decorating With Nature

According to Edwards, it is best to gather materials in the cool of the morning. This is when materials are at their freshest. She recommends using sharp pruning tools when collecting live greenery.

“Distribute cuts evenly around the plant to preserve the natural form,” she said. “When possible, make pruning cuts inside the canopy so the cut is hidden.”

Keep in mind, when gathering and crafting materials, you are working with nature. It is possible to track insects or animals into the house when brining in outdoor materials. Assembling materials and working outdoors is an easy way to prevent this from occurring.

Craft Ideas

Edwards offers some simple craft ideas using nature to jump start your decorating this holiday season.

“People often make kissing balls as an alternative to mistletoe sprigs.” Edwards said. “These are generally made of short sprigs of boxwood or other greenery and then hung where you would traditionally find mistletoe.”

If you want to create a hanging decoration with natural materials, all you need is a potato, wire and cut greenery. Using the potato as a base, fasten a piece of wire for hanging and insert sprigs of greenery until the potato is completely covered. The potato will keep the cut greenery fresh. Once finished inserting the sprigs, decorate with ribbons, berries, mistletoe etc. to help complete the look.

Another craft option is creating a nature wreath. First, collect items such as a grapevine wreath, acorns, twigs, pine cones, lichens and any other desired materials. Place these items around the wreath and hot glue them onto it. Again, adding ribbons and other materials will complete the overall look.

If you are looking to be a little more creative, creating nature owls is a great starting place. Edwards said begin by collecting pine bark, acorns, twigs and seeds.

“Gently chip the bark into the shape of an owl, and then glue two acorn caps to the bark to create the owl’s eyes,” Edwards said. “Glue a seed under the eyes for the owl’s beak then glue the owl to a leaf branch for display.”

Selecting the Prefect Christmas Tree

Whether you are purchasing your Christmas tree from a “cut your own” tree farm or vendors with pre-cut trees you have several species to choose from. Common Christmas tree species grown in the South available at farms are Leyland cypress, Virginia pine, Arizona cypress, Eastern red cedar and white pine. Species found at vendors with pre-cut trees often include Fraser fir, Douglas fir and blue spruce. Knowing ahead of time how the tree will be decorated can help decide what species to select. If people know they have heavy ornaments, they need a species with stiff branches. Certain species have stiffer branches than others. The Arizona cypress, eastern red cedar, blue spruce, Fraser fir and Virginia pine all have stiffer branches and are good options for heavy decorations. When buying a tree. The best time to buy a tree depends if the tree is pre-cut or freshly cut. Before purchasing or cutting down a tree, people need to measure the height and width of the room for the tree. This gives people a good idea of how much space their home has for a tree. People can expect most trees to last a maximum of three weeks after cutting after that; the tree’s needles begin to shed and they lose their fragrance. If purchasing a fresh cut tree or cutting one yourself, it is easier to estimate how long it will last but if you are buying a precut tree the timing can be difficult because it is hard to know exactly when the tree was cut. For precut trees, I suggest shaking the tree and running your hand down the branches. If the tree is fresh very few green needles should come off. Also, when purchasing or cutting a tree you need to make sure the trunk is reasonably straight and that there is only one trunk. Trees with dual or split trunks can be difficult to put in a stand. Once people bring their perfect tree home, they must cut the stump again and place it in the stand with water. People should continue to check the water levels daily. A fresh cut ensures the tree can take up water. Fresh cut trees will absorb a great deal of water in the first few days after cutting. Make sure there is always water in the stand. This prolongs the fragrance and keeps the needles from shedding. Happy tree shopping!

Please contact your County Extension Office if you have any questions. 

Alabama’s Fears Fuels Fire for Dutch Oven Revival

J. Wayne Fears prepares a variety of delicious meals in remote locations with his dutch ovens.
Fears can prepare desserts, like this apple pie, for a crowd.
Fears uses a heavy duty aluminum pan to cook biscuits inside the dutch oven.

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Now that the weather has finally cooled, the outdoors takes on a whole new appeal for many in Alabama. Hunting and camping are likely on the agenda, and being able to feed a delicious meal to a group of hunters or campers can often hinge on your upbringing.


If you’re like J. Wayne Fears, who calls Tater Knob in Jackson County, Alabama, home, it means breaking out the cast iron, just as his ancestors did while trapping and living off the land in north Alabama.
What Fears finds interesting is that a new generation is discovering the benefits of cast iron.
“Millennials are discovering the advantages of cooking on cast iron,” said Fears, a certified wildlife biologist and prolific outdoor writer. “My grandma knew that. Lodge (Manufacturing in Tennessee) had to build another foundry because of the popularity of both the cast iron skillet and the cast iron dutch oven.”


When it comes to cast iron dutch ovens, two different models are available for distinctly different purposes. The flat-bottom dutch oven is made to be used on conventional stovetops, while the dutch oven with legs is designed for outdoor cooking at campfires with coals from the fire or charcoal briquets.
“For camping, you need a dutch oven with three legs and a recessed lid,” said Fears, who held a seminar recently at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association annual conference. “The legs keep the bottom of the dutch oven off the coals, so you don’t burn everything. It has a recessed lid so you can put coals on top to use it for baking.”
Fears honed his dutch oven expertise during numerous years of overseeing hunting operations all over North America, including the western U.S., Canada and Alaska.


“Especially in our remote camps, we depended on dutch ovens to do a heck of a lot of our cooking,” he said.
If you’re planning a hunting or camping trip, or just cooking on an outdoor campfire, Fears recommends certain cast iron cookware to achieve a delicious meal. If you expect to draw a crowd when the smell of the cooking spreads, Fears recommends a No. 12 dutch oven. The No. 12 is the diameter in inches of the pot. Fears said you might need more than one, possibly in different sizes.


“It depends on what you’re cooking, whether it’s a stew and a pan of biscuits. You’re going to need one for each,” he said. “For the stew, I’d recommend a No. 12, and a No. 10 dutch oven so you can cook some cathead biscuits.
“If you’re going to make a cobbler, you’re going to need another No. 10. You can cook all three, and all of your meal will come out at the same time.”
Fears also recommends that you don’t look for the cheapest dutch oven you can find.


“I want to stress to get a quality dutch oven,” he said. “There are so many dutch ovens made overseas that are pitted or they’ll shatter if you drop them. If you get good quality cast iron, it can be a lifetime investment. In fact, a lot of my dutch ovens are in their third generation.”
Fears doesn’t discount the value of cooking with coals from the campfire if you’re in remote locations. However, if you can take a sack of charcoal briquets with you, your meals will likely be more palatable.
“Charcoal is just better as far as consistency and heat control,” he said. “Most people who cook with dutch ovens can go either way. With a little practice and good hardwood coals from the campfire, you can cook just as good as you can with charcoal. But most people who are just camping will use charcoal briquets because it’s a lot easier to fool with and the temperature is more consistent on top and on bottom.”


Contrary to what you may have seen in western or pioneer movies and TV shows, veteran dutch oven cooks have more heat on top than on bottom.
“You want to use twice as many coals on the lid as on the bottom,” Fears said. “You’re cooking down more than you’re cooking up. Most people, when they first start, they want to stick a dutch oven right in the middle of the campfire and put a few coals on top. Generally, they’ll burn everything on bottom, and it’ll still be rare on top. That’s why you have the lipped cover so the briquets won’t roll off of the top.”


Fears admits to making a “world of mistakes” while learning the fine art of dutch oven cooking and says adjustments have to be made depending on conditions.
“You may have a recipe that says cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes,” he said. “Well, 45 minutes in a dutch oven in Ely, Minnesota, is different than 45 minutes in Montgomery, Alabama. The wind, humidity and outside temperature have effects. You have to learn to see how the conditions affect the cooking.


“You’ve got to be patient and, every now and then, take a peek at what’s going on in the dutch oven so you can learn what you’re doing. And I rotate the lid about a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so that if you have any hotspots, you’re moving them around.”
Fears also said not to skimp on the amount of charcoal you light when you start cooking.
“Always have plenty of coals,” he said. “If it’s cold, like it is now up on Tater Knob this time of year, you need to have more coals waiting when the first ones are burned up.”


Fears also recommends a pair of heavy-duty gloves because just about everything you touch will be hot. He also recommends lid lifters that are capable of lifting a dutch oven filled with venison stew that might weigh 40 pounds.
“A coat hanger is not going to quite get the job done,” he said.
Fears has also learned that one of the best ways to use a dutch oven is to use it as just that, an oven. He takes a wire rack and places it in the bottom of the cast iron and uses a heavy-duty aluminum pan that fits on top of the wire rack to cook the food.


“The food doesn’t come in contact with the cast iron, and it saves you a ton of time for cleanup,” he said. “Having said that, the easiest way to get started with a dutch oven is to go to the supermarket and get a peach cobbler mix and two cans of peaches. Follow the instructions on the box and cook several cobblers in your dutch oven. You can learn more cooking cobblers than you can anything else.
“Once you have mastered peach cobbler, move up to stew or chili. Then when you get that mastered, you might want to make sourdough cathead biscuits. It’s not difficult. You just have to get out and actually do it. Anything you can cook in your oven at home, you can cook in a dutch oven. But I burned a lot before I figured it out.”


Fears’ “Lodge Book of Dutch Oven Cooking” is about to be translated into a fourth language. It’s filled with cooking tips and recipes.
“The book is selling really well in Japan right now,” Fears said. “They’re cooking a lot of rice dishes, and it’s easy to burn rice if you’re not careful.”
Of course, when the meal is done, it’s time for cleanup. One cardinal rule prevails when cleaning cast iron.


“Never use soap,” Fears said. “You can get these pot scrubbers that look like chain mail that work really well. If your cobbler spills over, pour hot water in it and hit it with that chain mail scrubber.”
For those looking for Christmas gifts, other than his book, Fears recommends a wire rack, heavy aluminum pan, chain mail scrubber, whisk broom for removing ashes from the lid, a small fireplace shovel to move coals around and a quality lid lifter.


“And wear some good boots or shoes,” Fears said. “No sandals or flip flops. If you do, you’re going to have some interesting scars on your toes.”

Alabama Receives USDA Funding To Control Feral Swine

Feral swine control projects in Alabama will receive $3.7 million to address the threat wild hogs pose to agriculture, ecosystems, and human and animal health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Nov. 21.


Nationally, USDA will award 10 states more than $16.7 million. Projects are part of the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Pilot Program (FSCP) — a joint effort between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell applauded the announcement.


“We are very pleased to see additional resources being allocated to combat agricultural damage caused by feral swine,” said Parnell, who leads the state’s largest farm organization. “Increased federal funding for control efforts has been a priority for the Federation and this, in addition to increased funding through the annual appropriations process, will go a long way to support our farmers as they manage feral swine.”


Alabama pilot projects, which last three years, include select watersheds in Baldwin, Escambia, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Sumter counties.
Federation Wildlife Division Director William Green thanked USDA’s Fish and Wildlife Service for helping secure funding for Alabama, citing millions of dollars in damage caused by the hogs, which reproduce quickly. Studies show two mature hogs can reproduce to yield 30 hogs in as little as 8 months. Feral swine have been sighted in all 67 counties in Alabama.
“Feral hogs damage forests, cattle range, and fruit and vegetable operations, as well as row crop acreage,” Green said. “No aspect of agriculture is exempt from feral swine destruction.”


NRCS and APHIS are working with the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee on three projects to notably reduce environmental and economic damage from wild pig rooting. They damage ecosystems and compete with native wildlife for habitat and food. Additionally, wild hogs degrade water quality and pose a serious disease threat to livestock and humans.


“Feral swine are the cause of significant damage to crops and grazing lands, while also impacting the health of our natural resources,” said NRCS State Conservationist Ben Malone. “By collaborating with our partners nationally and here in Alabama, our hope is to control this invasive species — improving operations for farmers while also protecting our natural resources for the future.”


Other pilot project states include Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
The 2018 Farm Bill provides $75 million for the FSCP over the life of the farm bill.

Hunters Can Bag More Than a Buck in Black Belt Adventures Photo Contest

The eighth annual Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association Big Buck Photo Contest is now under way with a muzzleloader, scope and gun case awaiting the winner. The contest will be open until the close of deer season on Feb.10, 2020.

“We are excited to sponsor this contest again this year,” said Pam Swanner, director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. “We’re always happy to encourage people to share their experiences and great memories formed in the Black Belt and this contest always attracts photos from conservation-minded hunters young and old.”

This year’s prize, a CVA .50 caliber Optima Muzzleloader with KonusPro Scope and gun case, is valued at $535.

Photos must be uploaded to AlabamaBlackBeltAdventures.org/bigbuckphotocontest and the deer must be one taken this season in Alabama’s 23-county Black Belt region. The winner will be determined by the number of votes received, also at the ALBBAA contest web page. You can vote once per day, per entry, per email address.

“Our contests were created to further educate the public on the abundance of natural resources found in Alabama’s Black Belt region,” Swanner said. “ALBBAA promotes and encourages ethical hunting and fishing practices.”

The Black Belt includes the following counties: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association is committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens. For information, go to www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org.

Special waterfowl hunting days announced for youth, veterans and active military personnel

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) has designated Saturday, November 23, 2019, as one of the 2019-2020 hunting season’s Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. The second of the two special waterfowl hunting days is scheduled for February 8, 2020.

On those days, youth under age 16 who are accompanied by a licensed adult hunter, military personnel on active duty and veterans (as defined in section 101 of U.S. Code: Title 38) may hunt for waterfowl statewide. Regular waterfowl season shooting hours, bag limits, legal arms and ammunitions apply to the special days. Hunting area rules and regulations also apply.

The special waterfowl days were previously reserved for youth hunters. Veterans and active duty military personnel can also hunt waterfowl on these special days outside of the regular season thanks to the recent passage of the federal John D. Dingell, Jr., Conservation, Management and Recreation Act.

To participate in the hunt, youth must be accompanied by a licensed adult supervisor. Only one firearm will be allowed per youth and only the youth hunters will be permitted to utilize the firearm for hunting unless the adult meets the requirements of a veteran or active duty military personnel. The adult supervisor must remain within arm’s length of the youth at all times and may accompany up to two youth participants during the hunt. The adult is also expected to review the rules of firearm safety and hunter ethics with each youth and ensure they are followed.

Youth is defined as an individual age 15 years and younger. Adult is defined as an individual age 21 years and older, or as the parent of the youth. The adult must have a state hunting license, state and federal waterfowl stamp and a free Harvest Information Program registration. Veterans and active duty military personnel must be in possession of a valid proof of service such as a military ID, Veterans Administration ID, veteran ID, veteran validation on their driver’s license or a copy of their DD Form 214. Possession of the mandatory hunting licenses and stamps is also required.

For more information about the Special Youth, Veteran and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days, contact WFF Migratory Gamebird Coordinator Seth Maddox at Seth.Maddox@dcnr.alabama.gov or 334-242-3469, or visit www.outdooralabama.com/waterfowl.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Prepare Your Lawn for the Fall and Winter Months

Cold weather and frosts mark the end of the growing season and the start of fall and winter. Now is a great time to prepare your lawn for the fall and winter months. It is time to get back outside and start clean-ups, preparations and plantings for the spring.


“Here are some actions you can take to prepare your lawn for the fall and winter months,” said Rudy Pacumbaba, an Alabama Extension horticulture specialist.


Remove Finished and Dead Plants
Overwintering plant litter can harbor pests and diseases. Tilling under pest and disease free litter is an option. Be sure to replenish your compost pile with pest and disease free plant litter. Always remove diseased litter to promote good sanitation and to prevent future pest problems.


Build a Compost
Nature also works during winter. A finished compost can be used as a soil amendment. Litter from a finished garden is ideal to replenish the compost pile. Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.


Cut the Grass
Cut warm season lawns to a height of 1-2 inches and cool season lawns to a height of 3-4 inches. If you are in an area that receives snow and cold, cutting the grass too short may damage roots and cause sections to die out. If the grass is left too long, blades could mat under snow and develop mold disease that can causes bare spots in the spring.


Fertilize Lawns and Control Weeds
Apply a winter fertilizer to cool season lawns to encourage thicker root growth. Warm-season lawns go dormant and turn to amber shades after frost. Warm-season lawns really don’t benefit from applying fertilizers in the fall.
Fall and winter is the best time to get a head start on controlling lawn weeds. Apply a granular pre-emergent weed control in the fall and late winter. A pre-emergent will control fall, winter and early spring weeds. It will also greatly reduce or eliminate the amount of weeds in your lawn during the growing season.


Drain Irrigation Systems
Turn off your automated sprinkler and irrigation system and properly drain. Blow out the systems to avoid damage from freezing and thawing temperatures. Call the company that installed your system if you’re unsure how to do this. Drain and coil hoses for winter storage. Remove hose nozzles, sprayers and wands. Store these items in a non-freezing spot such as a garage or basement. Cover and insulate outside hose bibs.


Add Mulch to Landscapes
Adding mulch helps to manage soil moisture. Mulch can also help to manage soil temperature and to add organic material to the soil profile as well. Adding a good layer of mulch around dormant perennials can prevent potential winter damage during very cold months. It is recommended to provide a minimum of 3 inches of mulch in and around your planting beds.


Prune Perennials
Winter is the best time to prune plants and flowering beds. Shrubs and trees require periodic pruning to remove diseased or dead material, to help control and direct growth, and to prevent potential hazards. Ornamental grasses are best pruned during the spring.
Divide and plant perennial bulbs. Late fall and winter is the best time to divide and plant. If it blooms on “new” wood, prune it in winter and spring. If it blooms on “old” wood, prune it in summer and fall. It’s essential that you prune after flowering.


More Information
More information about caring for your lawn this winter can be found in the Extension publication Winter Maintenance for Lawns and Landscapes. For further information, visit www.aces.edu or contact your county Extension office.