Category Archives: Outdoors

Visiting Lake Nottely, Blairsville and the Georgia Mountains

Want a nice get-away to the mountains for some scenery, cool air and fishing? I just got back from a few days around Blairsville and Lake Nottely. On the trip I ate some good food, looked at scenic views and fished for bass.  And I was constantly having flashback memories of my youth.

All the years I was in elementary school, grades one through eight back then, my family went on summer vacation for a week in the mountains.  We would load up the 54 Bel Air – and later the 1962 Bel Air – and head north from Dearing. All the roads were two lane back then and it was a slow, enjoyable trip.

Each night we would stay in a cheap roadside motel, four of us in one room, and eat at a local diner. Daddy insisted on country food just like we ate at home no matter how much I wanted a hamburger or hotdog.  At lunch we would stop at a picnic table, often right beside the road but sometimes at a scenic overlook, and mama would make sandwiches.

My most vivid memory of lunches is not about the food.  We always had Cokes in small bottles back then. I picked up mine for a swig and didn’t notice the yellow jacket on the mouth of the bottle. It took exception to being pressed against my lip and, after the burning sting eased a bit, I swelled up for two days!

The roadside attractions back then were not politically correct.  At many you could buy a nickel Coke or candy bar and give it to a chained bear cub to drink and eat.  I never wondered what happened to those cubs when they got too big, the owners probably ate them.

I learned about scams on one of those trips. A sign said give the owner a nickel and he would open the lid of a box cage and let you see the baby rattler and copperhead inside.

Sure enough, there was a baby shake rattle toy and a penny inside.

I loved the mountain streams and lakes but we never stayed in one place long enough for me to fish. But the year I was eight we changed our plans and I could not wait for my dream trip.

My family and another family, close friends, rented a cabin at Vogel State Park for a week. It was right beside a small stream that had trout in it, and only a couple hundred yards from the lake.

The other couple had a baby girl and she had colic.  Her loud crying kept me up all night and almost ruined the trip. That is when I decided I never wanted kids of my own!

One morning before daylight I put on my overalls, slipped out of the cabin without waking anyone, picked up my cane pole and can of worms and headed to the lake.  Where the stream entered it several row boats for rent were chained up.  One was half full of water with its back end in the lake.

I sat on the edge of that boat for a couple hours as it got light, catching small bream, yellow perch and trout with live earthworms.  I put my fish in the end of the boat that was full of water and it was supposed to work like a livewell.

Mama came hustling down the path to the cabin calling my name. When they woke and I was not there they panicked and went looking for me. Mama found me after she asked two teenage girls out walking if they had seen a kid.

Apparently they answered that yes, Huckleberry Finn was fishing down by the lake the lake!  I guess that fit me with my bare feet, overalls and straw hat!

Many things have changed, you will not see chained bear cubs or baby rattlers. But a trip is still fun and fishing is good on Nottely and other area lakes. 

My trip was to go out with guide Will Harkins and get information for my June Georgia Outdoor News article. Although Will is in college he is a great fisherman and knows Nottely and Chatuge well.

I stayed in a nice fifth wheel camping trailer through in a retirement camper community.  It was cheaper than area motels and more comfortable and quieter than a motel would have been.  It was only a few miles from Nottely and Blairsville.

About a mile from the camper and Nottely Dam is Papaw’s Bac-yard BBQ where I got some of the best brisket I have ever eaten, delicious and tender enough to cut with a fork. He has a wide variety of sauces and his Brunswick Stew was very good, too.

Next door at the Amish Store some interesting jelly is available. Frog jelly is fig, raspberry, orange and ginger.  Toe Jam is tangerine, orange and elderberry.  Traffic jam is mostly strawberry for some reason. There are also many other things, from furniture to funny signs, for sale too.

The first night I drove into Blairsville and ate at Mike’s Seafood. The scallops were delicious, cooked just right, and the bite of grilled tuna I tried was excellent. I always like walking into a place like Mike’s and see you order at the fresh seafood counter.

I planned on eating there on Saturday night before I left. Although Google Maps said they got less busy after 8:00 PM, an hour before the close, at 8:00 that night the wait to order was 90 minutes!!

Sicily’s Pizza & Subs Pasta was just down the street and there was no wait. The pizza I got was great but it was not the scallops I wanted! Till next time – Gone fishing!

Mayfly Life Cycle

I was surprised when I shook the limb that had been full of Mayflies on Sunday and Friday, to see two dead ones fall out and not even one fly off. Mayflies attract bream that attract bass, but the hatch does not last long.

The life cycle of a Mayfly is amazing to me. Adult females lay from 50 to 10,000 eggs, depending on the species, on the surface of the water and the eggs settle to the bottom. They hatch in about two weeks into nymphs that live from two weeks to two years on the bottom, feeding on decaying material and growing.

When grown, the nymph swims to the surface and the skin splits and a winged subimago fly emerges to fly to a nearby bush. After resting overnight, it molts into the adult winged fly, the only insect that molts after developing a winged stage.

Soon after the final molt, the adult flies mate and the females lay eggs on the surface of the water at dusk. The males die after mating and the females die after laying eggs, usually living only one day but sometimes live as long as two days.

No wonder they were all gone at Bartletts Ferry in a week!

Hot Hands Hand Warmers Can Be Worth Their Weight In Gold

Hot Hands Hand Warmers

 When I first joined a bass club I had no idea bass would bite during the winter.  But a January, 1975 tournament at Jackson taught me they would.  Six bass weighing more than six pounds each were weighed in.   

I thought I would freeze that cloudy, windy day with sleet all day long.  I had worn my winter hunting clothes that were fine for deer hunting in the fall or walking winter fields and woods looking for squirrels, rabbits and quail, but they were not fine for sitting in a boat in 32-degree wind and sleet!   

A catalog at home from a new mail order company, Bass Pro Shops, offered snowmobile suits and boots.   I ordered both the next week.  The thick insulated jumpsuit was water resistant and repelled sleet and snow, but I had to get a good rainsuit to go over it.   

The boots were very heavy, with inch thick felt liners inside. I knew if I ever fell out of the boat they would take me to the bottom, so I never tightened up the string at the top, leaving them where they would easily slip off.  Of course, with everything else I wore, getting out of the boots probably would not make much difference.  This was way before the small auto inflatable life jackets I now wear at all times.   

I had some of the old hand warmers, the ones you filled with lighter fluid, lit and put in a case in your pocket.  When they came out I got the ones that used a charcoal stick and put it in a cloth lined case to put in a pocket to keep you warm.    Both kinds were messy and hard to use, and inconsistent staying lit, but they helped.

A few years later I saw a product called “Hot Hands” at Berry’s Sporting Goods that did not make sense.  It was a small cloth pouch with grit in it that, when taken out of a plastic bag, shook up and put in your pocket, it warmed up.  Since I taught science at the time I was able to figure out the iron dust inside rusted really fast when exposed to air, producing heat.

Hot Hands make a huge difference when fishing this time of year.  They are not messy or bulky and are easy to use.  I can put them in my boots before leaving home and they are still warming my toes up nine hours later. One in each jacket pocket lets me put hands in them one at a time when driving the boat or even fishing a slow-moving bait to warm them up.  A few scattered inside my heavy suit keep my body toasty.

I was a press observer at the 2015 Bassmasters Classic on Like Hartwell. On practice day I rode with David Kilgore, watching him figure out patterns for eight hours.  I could not fish, just sit and talk and watch.

The air temperature was eight degrees that morning, but it warmed all the way up to 20 degrees during the day. And the wind blew. I was comfortable all day though, since I had hot hands in the toes of each boot, in each outside coat pocket for my hands, and four in inside pockets against my body.  I even put one under my cap before putting on a stocking cap and pulling my hood over it. 

Two-packs of both hand or toe warmers are about $1.75 at Berrys and bulk packs are cheaper.  They really help and I don‘t leave home without them this time of year.

What Are Soft Shell Turtles?

Forty or fifty years ago, it was rare to see soft shell turtles on our lakes. But for the past ten years or so I have been seeing more and more of them while fishing. Soft shell turtles are seldom seen out of the water, but they look very distinctive when near the surface.

Common painted turtles that we often see sunning on rocks and logs in the water have a dark shell and yellow markings. They are everywhere, and I see them so often I even named a cove at Clarks Hill “Turtle Cove” there were always so many in it.

Soft shell turtles, named Florida Softshell Turtles, are a different family from other more common turtles. They are much flatter and look brown in the water. Rather than the sharp beak-like nose of other turtles, softshells have a long hog-like nose. And they have very long necks and much bigger webbed feet.

Softshells spend most of their lives lying on shallow, muddy bottoms, blending in with the mud. They don’t move around much. Their long neck and snout allow them to stick their nose above the surface to breathe. Bigger ones can extend to the surface from more than a foot deep. They feed on fish that swim by, grabbing them in their mouth by shooting their neck out.

The first softshell I ever saw was one caught on a trotline at Clarks Hill back in the 1950s. We were camping at Germany Creek and someone else in the campground brought it in. It was as big as a #2 wash tub.

Back then folks put out a lot of hooks for catfish, and sometimes, but rarely, caught a softshell turtle. If one was caught it was cleaned and eaten, since softshells are much easier to clean than other turtles. I think that is the reason they were so rare back then. Few people run hooks for catfish now so a big threat to the turtles has been removed.

The biggest one I have ever seen, and the only one out of the water sunning they I ever saw, was lying on a log at Lake Hartwell. It was huge, at least three feet across its back. Most of the time they are very shy and spooky but this one let me get close enough to get a good look before splashing into the water.

This time of year, turtles, including softshells, crawl out of the water to lay their eggs in holes they dig on the bank. You are much more likely to see them in the shallows. At Hartwell last week, in one small sandy cove, I counted five of different sizes. The biggest was about two feet wide and the smallest about a foot across.

In the ten days I fished Hartwell I saw more than a dozen softshells. I am glad they entertained me since I didn’t see or catch many bass!

Sustaining the Outdoor Industry

Sustaining the Outdoor Industry Through Casual Participation?
from The Fishing Wire

The latest Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) topline report on sports, fitness and leisure activities seems to quantify what many in the outdoor industry have long suspected: overall, the recreational industry is seeing a significant amount of its growth coming from casual participants, not expansion of core participants.

Outdoor sports showed modest increases. Camping -the RV kind- grew by 7.9 percent. That was offset by a decline in “core” camping – the kind done more than 1/4 mile from your vehicle. It declined 4.6 percent.

Fly fishing lead the hunting/fishing category, with a 6.0 percent increase. Both fresh and saltwater fishing gained as well, showing increases of 1.2 and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Hunting (all categories) was flat, showing only a .2 percent increase-although that slight increase represents a continued growth over the past five years.

Both rifle and bow hunting categories dropped slightly, but shotgun hunting lost the most ground (2 percent), wiping out its gains over the past four years.

Sporting clays gained 2 percent- despite the fact that core participants (shooting more than 8 times a year) declined 8.8 percent in the SFIA survey.

Trap/skeet gained ground (up 5.3 percent) and target shooting (handgun) gained nearly 3 percent (2.9 percent).

The SFIA report seems to confirm that it’s “outreach” sports – the ones making efforts to reach youth with organized activities and opportunities- that are making the largest gains. That seems to hold true in their team sports categories as well.

It’s worth noting that not many categories showed core growth- including those with significant outreach efforts. Their growth confirms the essentialness of outreach – but may imply that the all-important conversion from “casual” to “core” participant isn’t happening. If that’s the case, there seems to be a need for a mid-step- a set of activities designed to further engage participants while they learn the skills and (in some cases) acquire the equipment necessary to bring them into the core constituencies. Only one outdoor category, rifle shooting, actually showed the gain in their core constituency.

On the water, standup paddling is a shining star. Last year’s participation was up 6.6 percent- and over the past five years, there’s been a 23.3 percent increase in SUP participation.

Kayaking’s up as well.

With overall participation numbers largely the same, the gains seem to have come at the expense of two other formerly hot activities: rafting and jet skiing. Both lost significant participant numbers. (Rafters declined 11.7 percent, jet skiing lost 7.7 percent of its participants).

On the surface, the red-hot archery category seemed to slow, declining 5.7 percent over last year, but that’s not really the case. Over the past five years, overall participation is actually up an average of 4.3 percent.

It’s important to note that sports where with the largest gains include are a growing number of opportunities for young people to try them. Archery’s gains can be attributed to their growing youth competition programs (NASP and S3DA, among others), as can those of shooting sports (SCTP and SASP under the SSSF) and fishing (high school bass leagues).

The overall good news? As a whole the United States was more active in 2016.

The exceptions were adults in the 45-54 age category and households with incomes under $50K. Both those showed slight decreases in activity.

There’s no explanation offered for the decline in lower-income households, but the 45-54 age category is generally considered the one where the body’s inevitable slowdown means either a slowdown in participation in high-demand sports- or a shift to less-demanding activities.

No stunning conclusions can be drawn from the numbers, but they do seem to reinforce the accepted fact that outreach is essential to keep any sport or recreational activity relevant with potential participants.

Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about the 2017 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Report, it’s available for purchase (free to SFIA Members) at

Roughing It At A KOA Campground

I just got back from “camping” for four nights at the KOA campground near Lake Hartwell. Camping isn’t what it used to be!

When growing up camping meant a pup tent or canvas stretched between two trees, a sleeping bag on the hard ground or if fancy, a lounge chair with a bar that hurt your back all night. We cooked on an open fire and food was either somewhat raw or burned. The only sounds were those of nature and our voices.

Now, folks pull in to a campground and park their motor home or trailer, usually about as big as a small house, on a concrete pad. They get out and hook up the power cord, water hose and cable TV cord, go back inside and turn on the air conditioner or heat. After two nights and three days of “camping” they reappear, unhook everything and drive off into the sunset.

Some, especially with kids, do rough it. Rather than disappear inside they get set up then pull out an awning, set up their big screen TV under it, and sit and watch it until time to go to bed at night. They even get the “nature” experience by putting a microwave on the picnic table and cook and eat outside.

One family pulled up beside me, did the above but also set up a small portable fence about three feet high around the table and door so their little yapping dog would not run off. The KOA had a small fenced in pet exercise area where they could walk their dog on a lease 100 feet to it so it could run free.

I started to go to the office and tell them they forgot to issue me my little yapping dog when I checked in. I thought one must be required since it seemed everyone had one but me!

A few folks ventured so far into nature they built a campfire. That consisted of trying to find enough twigs to put in a metal fire pit and dosing it with lighter food to start their bundle of bought fire wood. The KOA office sold firewood, ice and other necessities like shampoo, KOA tee shirts and toys for kids.

There was a nice shower room and I was almost always using it alone since most of the big campers were self-contained. As the folks left after their experience with nature they stopped at the dump station and emptied their sewage.

Sitting outside there were few natural sounds. Only air conditioners running, little dogs yapping and highway traffic. But I was there to fish so it was convenient to sleep in my van and drive the few miles to the ramp. I did not have to worry about my boat and tackle like I would at a motel and could cook my own food and go to bed as soon as the sun set!

What Is the Outdoor Recreation Outlook for 2016?

Positive Outlook For Outdoor Recreation In 2016
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s Note: According to this report from the American Recreation Coalition, 2016 looks like it will be a good year for the outdoor industry.

Washington – Outdoor recreation leaders report good sales and activities for 2015 and expectations of still stronger activity in 2016, according to a new report from the American Recreation Coalition, Outdoor Recreation Outlook 2016. Americans spend more than $650 billion annually on equipment ranging from skis and tents to RVs and boats and on services ranging from fishing licenses to zip lines, supporting millions of jobs in manufacturing, sales and service. And renewed interest in outreach and promotion by federal land and water management agencies – based around the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration – is creating new opportunities for Americans everywhere to enjoy their great outdoors.

A core strength of outdoor recreation in America is the lure of America’s public lands and waters covering nearly one third of the nation’s surface. Best known is America’s National Park System with 408 units, ranging from world-renowned destinations to small historic sites. Visitation is on the rise, up to 3.66% from 2014 levels, with 8.7 million more visits for the year to date. Key to this rise is the National Park Service’s first major promotional campaign in 50 years – Find Your Park – as well as the Every Kid in a Parkinitiative, aimed at providing four million fourth graders and their guests an experience on public lands and waters throughout the school year.

Collectively, America’s State Parks hosted more than 740 million visitors in 2014, an increase of more than 12 million from the preceding year. State park visitation trends continue at record levels. State parks now report an inventory of more than 217,000 campsites, of which about one-third are seasonal. Of the nearly 60 million overnight visitors to state parks in the past year, over 50.3 million were campers.

Vehicle sales remain strong. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the market for RVs has maintained its strength and sales of new units in 2015 will rise to more than 370,000 units. This will mark a sixth consecutive yearly increase. Looking further out, forecasts for 2016 RV sales remain favorable with total shipments expected to surpass this year’s estimate to finish at more than 380,000 units.

Recreational use of on- and off-highway motorcycles, ATVs, and ROVs is also growing. The industry contributes nearly $109 billion in direct spending to the U.S. economy annually and over 1.5 million jobs. Nearly 30 million Americans ride motorcycles on and off roads, and ATV ridership is some 35 million annually.

KOA – the nation’s largest private campground system – reports a very strong year across the board, with both occupancy and registration revenue showing increases.

ACTIVE Network, the organization that manages – the unified means for making reservations on all federal lands – reports that reservations increased 19% – to 4.4 million in 2015, up from 3.7 million in 2014. recorded more than 22 million visits, an increase of 31.25%, and a 28.15% increase in users, with nearly 12 million in 2015. Use fees also increased 12% over 2014 levels. Federal reservable facilities increased from 3,079 to 3,205 over the same period.

Fishing remains one of the most popular lures to the great outdoors. According to the 2015 Special Report on Fishing released by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and the Outdoor Foundation, the sport continues to grow, with 2.4 million newcomers who tried fishing in 2014 alone. Forty-six million Americans – 15.8% of the U.S. population ages six and older – participated in fishing last year and those numbers are expected to keep growing with RBFF’s new “60 in 60” initiative, which aims to achieve 60 million anglers ages 6 and older by 2021.

New boat sales continue to steadily recover but still remain below pre-recession highs. With an estimated 6% growth expected in 2015 and another potential 6% growth in 2016, the industry would be poised to return to near pre-recession levels of 250,000 new boats sold, including power, sail and personal watercraft. Ski boats, outboard boats, jet drive boats and personal watercraft are showing the strongest gains in 2015.

Marinas continue to build momentum post-recession. The push to improve comes from the call from boaters for marinas to be resort and destination locations instead of just places to store and repair boats. Boaters want pools, clubhouses, nearby restaurants and activities, as well as clean, comfortable accommodations for weekend visits. More marinas than ever are offering boat rentals, water toy rentals, event services and cabin, campground and RV park services.

The U.S. bike industry is enjoying another solid, steady year of sales. Total U.S. retail dollars generated by retail sales of bicycles, accessories, and related equipment are expected to exceed $7 billion this year – a figure that includes sales of used bikes. Unit sales are expected to total about 18 million. According to a study commissioned by PeopleForBikes, 103 million Americans rode a bike at least once in 2014. Bike riding in large U.S. cities has doubled in the last 15 years. Safer bike infrastructure and the onset of bike-sharing systems (in at least 70 U.S. cities) are key factors in this growth, a trend that is expected to continue.

According to the America Outdoors Association, revenues for whitewater rafting, kayaking and paddlesports are up significantly over 2014, with lower gas prices fueling family travel. Most outdoor recreation activities and cabin rentals saw higher demand. Revenues for aerial adventures (zip lines and aerial adventure parks) have flattened out as the number of parks have proliferated.

The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) is very optimistic about the 2015-16 season. Snowmobile sales in the U.S. and Canada for 2015 increased 6% compared to 2014. And the sales of manufacturer-branded parts, clothing and accessories increased 5% from last year. The number of miles ridden increased 9% over last year.

U.S. ski areas tallied an estimated 53.6 million skier and snowboarder visits during the 2014-15 season – down 5% from the previous season’s 56.5 million total, and down 3.8% from the five-year industry average of 55.7 million skier visits according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). Despite a stronger economy, weather challenges across all regions of the country contributed to this drop in skier visits. Nationally, snowfall was 28% below average this season.

NSAA’s survey results also contained some particularly positive news. For example, the results from the critical Rocky Mountain region were well above the region’s five-year average. NSAA’s survey results also showed strong growth in season pass sales, which were up 6.2% from the previous season – an important indicator in the public’s demand for skiing and snowboarding.

Snow sports market sales topped $4.5 billion for the 2014-15 season, up 2% compared to the 2013-14 season. Overall, categories including outerwear, snow boots, headwear and more sold very well this season, but equipment and many equipment accessories like goggles and helmet sales dropped compared to 2013-14.

Recreational activities continue to be a mainstay of the American lifestyle, and there is widespread optimism regarding 2016. ARC’s report is available for download as a PDF at

Finding Survival Food As A Kid

There are a lot of TV shows about surviving in the wilderness running right now. They have a variety of themes, from a father and son reenacting possible problems hikers, fishermen and hunters may get into and get lost to a couple put into a wilderness setting without anything, including clothes. All these shows take me back to growing up wild in Georgia, where we often tried to “live off the land” for a few days.

We were never really in a survival situation since home was just a few minutes away, but we liked to think we had to find food and shelter to survive. Since my friends and I lived in a rural area we were used to gardening, eating anything we could kill or catch and using nature. But being out in the woods pretending we had to survive was fun, especially knowing the comforts of home were close.

Our survival tools were our trusty BB guns and later .22 rifles and .410 shotguns, so getting squirrels, birds and sometimes rabbits was no problem. There are very few kinds of birds I have not eaten at some point but a few, like redbirds and bluebirds were off limits. And we never tried buzzards, for obvious reasons.

All kinds of plants were eaten, too. There was a weed that I never knew the name that grew all over the fields, and its roots were crunchy and had a nutty flavor. We usually ate them raw but often put them in squirrel and bird stew. One of us always had a mess kit along with its fry pan, pot, cup, knife, fork and spoon so we could cook things in a lot of ways.

Mushrooms grew wild but we were afraid to try them. We knew some were poison so we left all of them alone. But there were acorns, which tasted terrible, dandelions, poke weed and other plants we did eat. And hickory nuts were good if we could crack them open.

We never ate bugs and worms, we never got that hungry, but we did consider it. A few years ago on a trip up the Amazon River Linda and I took a tour of the jungle with a Brazilian military captain that taught survival skills to troops. He showed us a lot of different kinds of food from tarantula spiders to vines that held water.

At one point he cut a palm looking bush and shelled out a small nut. He said the nut, a palm nut, was edible and tasted like coconut. Then he split open the nut and showed us a white grub inside, saying protein was important and these grubs were good.

When he asked if anyone wanted to taste it I popped it into my mouth and bit down. It tasted like coconut. So I will eat worms and bugs, even if not starving to death. And I guess I would eat a buzzard if really, really, really hungry.

The branch provided several kinds of food but we didn’t try most of them. Crawfish were small and would not have made much of a meal but we knew we could eat them. And the small bream and catfish in the branch were so tiny we didn’t want to clean them. Under real survival situations both would make a good stew.

In the spring we even tried bird eggs. They were not bad boiled in branch water in our mess kit pots over a campfire. Since my family had 11,000 laying hens I usually packed some chicken eggs along to eat. That is not really survival but just keeping them whole taught ways to protect the food we found and how to handle it with care.

Our shelters were very simple lean-tos built by tying a sapling between two trees, leaning other sapling trunks against it and covering them with sweet gum branches with leaves. I doubt they would have stopped much rain but it was the best we could do with what we had, and we were proud of them.

One of the biggest problems folks on the survival shows have is making a fire, a necessity under survival conditions and for us boys in the woods. We tried rubbing sticks together, making sparks with flint and steel and using a magnifying glass. Nothing worked for us except the magnifying glass so we always had matches with us.

I spent hours dipping the heads of strike anywhere matches in melted wax to protect them from water. They were carried in a small box and could be counted on to produce a fire when scratched against a handy rock. I am not sure I could start a fire without the right tools but I know how it is supposed to be done.

Pretending to need to survive is fun but I don’t think I would want to do it under real conditions where my life might depend on my skills.

Chimney Swifts or Chimney Sweeps

I grew up in an old farmhouse with two brick chimneys. They had been closed off and were not used by us, but they were used. Small birds we called “chimney sweeps” lived in them, coming out in the mornings and flying around late in the afternoon before diving back in for the night.

In my youthful overconfidence, I used to shoot at them with a BB gun, and actually hit one while it was flying one time. It was a miracle I hit it, but I probably shot at them thousands of times before connecting. That one time was enough, after killing it and getting a good look at it I quit shooting at them.

A recent report from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave me a lot more information about those birds. They are actually called “chimney swifts” and migrate through Georgia in the fall headed south and back north in the spring. They stop in our area to nest in the spring before heading further north.

These birds nested in hollow trees before we offered them chimneys to use, and now they depend on chimneys, old abandoned buildings and airshafts to roost in at night and to nest in during the spring. They can cause some problems because they can introduce vermin into your house, but they eat many insects while flying around, keeping the mosquito population low in areas where they live.

If you have an old chimney on your house, don’t worry about the birds in it. They will be a help to you and not cause any problems. They do need brick or stone chimneys with cement joints between the stones or bricks. They can not roost or nest in metal chimneys so those should always be capped to keep them out.

Chimney swifts have four strong claws on their feet and can grab the rough mortar in joints and roost hanging vertically, almost like bats. Most birds must perch upright but these swifts can hang sideways and spend the night.

If you want to provide a suitable nesting spot for them next spring when they return from their winter habitat in the Amazon Basin of South America, the DNR has some suggestions. Make sure the chimney is cleaned no later than March to remove creosote residue. This needs to be done to avoid fire hazards to your house as well as helping the birds. Chimney swift nests are not a fire hazard, according to the DNR.

Close the damper above your fireplace or stove. This keeps droppings and young birds from falling all the way into the base of the fireplace. Otherwise you might have to rescue a very upset bird covered in soot from your stove! It also lowers the noise you will hear from the birds.

Metal chimneys need to be covered but stone and brick chimneys can be left open so the birds have access to roost and nest. They are having a hard time finding good sites since many big hollow trees have been cut and most modern chimneys are made of metal, making them unsuitable for the birds.

If you have old buildings with chimneys on your property, keep them standing and let the birds use them. That will keep them nearby and they can survive without using the chimney on your house.

You will enjoy seeing these fast, streamline birds darting around your house. Don’t try to shoot them, just let them eat up the bugs that bother you. That seems to be a pretty good rent on your chimney.

For more information on these birds and providing roosting and nesting places for them, you can go to and click on “Nongame Animals and Plants” and also on “Backyard Wildlife – Wildlife.” If you see unusual numbers of chimney swifts – numbering in the hundreds to thousands – call the DNR Nongame Wildlife & Natural Heritage Section in Forsyth at 478-994-1438.

Bald Eagles On Lake Guntersville

Hurry to See Bald Eagles On Lake Guntersville

Editor’s Note: Today, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Dave Rainer has a bit of advice for those southern birders looking to get a good look at bald eagles. Although the season’s winding down quickly, a very tough winter has pushed more of the great birds than normal to Alabama’s Lake Guntersville and Lake Guntersville State Park area.
from The Fishing Wire

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Better hurry up if you want to catch the amazing flight of soaring bald eagles in north Alabama through the Lake Guntersville State Park’s Eagle Awareness program.

Only a few weekends remain to enjoy learning about and watching bald eagles, some that make Lake Guntersville home, and some that just visit for the winter because of an abundance of habitat and food.

In fact, this has been a bumper year for bald eagles in Alabama because of the especially harsh winter.

“Fortunately for us, it’s been so cold up North that it’s pushed a lot more birds down our way,” said Park Naturalist Patti Donnellan, who is in charge of the Eagle Awareness program, which was started by Linda Reynolds 29 years ago at Guntersville.

“The bald eagle is a large bird, standing 2 to 3 feet tall,” Donnellan said of the national symbol of the United States. “Sitting on a branch, it’s a large bird. The wingspan is about 6 feet, and the birds usually weigh 12 to 14 pounds here in Alabama.”

Donnellan explained Bergmann’s rule of animal sizes, which is somewhat determined by latitude. As a general rule, the farther north an animal lives, the larger it is. This is especially true for the cervid species like deer, and it also applies to eagles. Donnellan said eagles in Alaska can weigh as much as 18 pounds.

Park Naturalist Patti Donnellan scans the dawn for bald eagles at Town Creek Fishing Center at Lake Guntersville State Park during one of the Eagle Awareness weekends. The park is rated as the top place in the state to watch the majestic bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States. David Rainer photo.
Of course, food availability has a lot to do with size as well. At Lake Guntersville, there is plenty to eat. There’s a year-round supply of fish, and plenty of coots, water birds that swim like a duck but are more closely related to the crane family, in the fall and winter.

“About two-thirds of an eagle’s diet is fish, but they’ll eat just about anything they can get their talons on,” Donnellan said. “They love coots. If you’re out eagle-watching on your own and you see a mass of coots who think there’s safety in numbers, look up because there’s probably an eagle flying around overhead. They’ll eat any kind of duck. I’ve seen them eat snakes. They’ll eat road kill. One of their nasty habits is stealing from other birds.”

Speed also helps eagles when it comes to catching prey. Donnellan said eagles can fly at speeds up to 40 miles per hour but can reach 100 mph in a dive with the wings tucked.

Donnellan said they were able to witness one dive-bomb attack by an eagle near the Guntersville Dam.

“There was a red-tailed hawk circling around the (eagles’) nest,” she said. ‘The missus was sitting on the nest and she screamed, ‘Honey, we’ve got trouble.’ Here he comes from the river, flying pretty fast. All of a sudden, he tucked those wings and turned on the afterburners, flying straight at the nest. He chased that hawk down into the brush, and we never saw that hawk again.”

That dive-bombing eagle was named Barney, who succumbed to old age last year. Barney was part of a reintroduction program from 1985-1991.

“Eagles can live to be 25 to 30 years old,” Donnellan said. “Barney was hatched in 1989. The last time we saw him was in December 2012. That’s a good, long time for a wild bird.”

Eagles mate for life and it took Barney’s mate, Thelma Lou, quite some time to pick a successor and set up house in the nest near Guntersville dam.

“The nest is massive,” Donnellan said. “The record nest in Ohio is 9 feet across, 20 feet deep and weighs 2,000 pounds. Our nest at the dam is approaching this.”

Donnellan said the new male eagle did a little remodeling in the nest and the pair successfully raised one eaglet last year.

“Thelma Lou’s time clock was a little off because of losing Barney,” she said. “Typically, our eagles are incubating eggs right now or feeding newly hatched young. Eagles can have from one to three eggs per nest. An eagle egg is surprisingly small. It’s only 30 percent larger than a chicken egg.”

Donnellan said the eaglet’s rate of growth is phenomenal because of the protein-rich meals provided by the parents.

“An eaglet can go from being hatched to full size in three months,” she said. “They are as big as their parents in three months’ time. They’ll hang around the parents for that first full year, learning how to be an eagle, learning how to fish and hunt, and learning how to watch for those big metal things coming down the road. Then when it’s the next nesting season, mom and dad say, ‘Out you go.’ They’re done with them after that first year.

“We have a lot of young eagles that spend the winter with us. The adult eagles have their established areas up North. The adults tell the young eagles to go find someplace else to hang out in the winter, so they come here.”

Donnellan said eagles don’t reach full maturity until 5 years old and will not get the full white head until that age.

“I remember as a small child, second or third grade, doing a book report on eagles,” Donnellan said. “I said I hope to get to see one one day. Now I get to go out and see them all the time because of restoration projects throughout the Southeast and East.”

A plethora of problems – loss of habitat, pesticide (DDT) use and poaching – pushed eagle populations to the brink of extinction nationwide. Alabama’s restoration project was started in 1984 by the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries’ Nongame Wildlife Program.

However, the restoration process was not simple for eagles. It required that an egg be retrieved from nests with three eggs. The retrieved eggs were incubated, hatched and reared in special cages that kept the interaction with humans concealed. Then came the hacking process, and we’re not talking about computers here. An eagle must be “hacked” to a certain location. Hacking is the process where eagles are forced to take their first flights, which gives them an imprint of that area. After they’re hacked, the eagles will return to that area to nest when they reach reproductive age, usually 4 to 6 years old.

Wildlife biologists successfully hacked 91 juveniles in Alabama between 1985 and 1991. More than 20 years later, there are more than 77 bald eagle nests confirmed in our state. Donnellan said Marshall County has an estimated 18 eagle nests.

More important, the bald eagle was taken off the Federal Endangered Species list in 2007.

“Alabama, being the beautiful place it is, eagles love it here,” Donnellan said. “We’ve got plenty of trees and running water that doesn’t freeze. We estimate that between 700 and 1,000 eagles winter in Alabama each year. A lot of them will stop at Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee, but Reelfoot is frozen this year. That brings even more down our way.”

To join in Eagle Awareness, visit and check out the program. There are even special packages that include rooms at the beautiful Guntersville Lodge for the weekend. Eagle Awareness weekends that remain are Jan. 31-Feb. 2, Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 14-16.

Amanda Glover, Donnellan’s assistant, said there will be a special event, a bird-of-prey release, during the Bassmaster Classic, which will be held at Lake Guntersville on Feb. 21-23. The Alabama Wildlife Center, headquartered at Oak Mountain State Park, will release a raptor, most likely a red-tailed hawk, at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 22 at the Guntersville Lodge.