Deer Season 2016

(Trigger Warning: I hunt, this blog includes posts on hunting, as such this post contains pictures of harvested deer.  Please avoid if this is unsettling to you.) 

Sometimes things just work out.  I mean there are lots of times where life throws you curveballs and nothing works (cough, last years deer season), but then there are the times where things just click and all feels right with the world.

I had a feeling that the 2016 deer season was just such a time.  It was a new  year ripe with possibilities, and despite a poor success rate in 2015, I remained more optimistic than ever.  With a warm winter at our backs, a good recruitment of fawns expected, and an unheard-of three doe tags in our collective pockets, visions of many tagged deer danced in my mind.  This was a pretty great way to feel hiking out to a deer stand at the beginning of the season.

Some hunters talk about conjuring deer from an internal sense of desire, other people talk about positivity bearing fruit.  Heck maybe it all comes down to the great Ju-Ju, and how many times you rub the rack of antlers over the camps fireplace before you start the day.  Call it what you want, but what ever it was I had it on the first day.  About 10 minutes after sitting down, a good sized doe cantered out from the corner of a nearby field right into my field of vision and the sights of my Tikka .270.  I whistled to stop her as she ran, took my shot, and just like that, our group had our first deer down for the year.  Sometimes things just work out!

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Having harvested a deer on the first day, left me with a strange feeling.  All my past experiences with deer season usually involved several days of little to no action right off the bat.  This inactivity equates to build up in anxiety, and anticipation.  One that is gradual and goes unnoticed but usually culminates with a rush of adrenaline once a deer is actually harvested late in the season.  This is not the case for the punctual deer shot right off the bat.  This deer comes with a strange lack of excitement, and a sense of relief.  Knowing that the first deer is down and that the group will have venison for the winter is as relieving as it gets.  Although not as exciting, harvesting the first deer so quickly sure makes it easier to sit in the stand for the rest of the week.  Maybe its not so complicated, maybe its just the ramblings of a successful hunter who has spent too much time in a back up stand.

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But enough rambling, lets talk about the season.  Generally, as deer seasons go, this one sits firmly in my top 5.  Heck, my top 2 for that matter.  Its takes second place for the number of deer I personally harvested, and first place for the level of success we as a group had.  With an average of one deer per day, and six in total, the season was action packed an hard to beat.  Not to mention the quality of the deer just seemed to get better and better as the week carried on.

dsc_0794-iidsc_0789-iiThe first three deer were does, filling our coveted doe tags and forcing us to take amore buck centric mind set.  This was tough to do with the number of does that just kept presenting themselves to us.  Luckily Jordan managed a shot at a tricky buck who was trying to sneak by in a marshy area.  Buck one was down and day three was over.

Day four started off with a low key run on a property that was divided into two sections.  We ran the first area with no sightings of live deer but plenty of deer sign for the seeing.  Following the unsuccessful initial run, we moved to the second adjacent property, thinking that perhaps the buck whose sign we were seeing could be present.  As luck would have it, he was, and as I trucked on into the farthest stand I heard the sound off a rifle from one of our group.  Eric had been laying in wait at a pinch point within the property in anticipation that something may be pushed as we travelled to our stands.  This would be our second buck and the biggest I had yet to see in my relatively short time as a deer hunter.

(Eric hadn’t harvested a buck in a while, so it was nice to see him have success with such a beast of an animal) 

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This deer was healthy, and Eric was beaming.  According to the group, It had been a few years since something this big had come out of the woods.  Big, but not the end of the story.

Day five arrived, and it was my turn to dog the bush.  My previous dogging experience had been limited to a small section of woods as a way to ease me into the game.  Having already harvested a deer, and having fresh young legs made me a prime candidate to run the dogs a couple times.  So the group set me up on a larger stretch of bush, followed by a smaller tighter bush.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed with the prickly ash present on the first property.  Who would be.  But contemplating the whole experience I’ve realized this is a part of deer hunting and you have to put the work in to reap the rewards.  Apparently I put a whole lot of work in, because the reward on the second run was pretty epic.   I was quick to note that due to my success, I may actually be the best dogger to ever enter those woods.  That claim was short lived as the group started mulling over the concept of having me dog on a full time basis.  Back to being average!

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A few minutes into the run I dogged a small section of swampy woods located next to the roadway.  Apparently the deer had been using this as a throughway to get across the street to the adjacent cornfields.  I must have some innate knack for dogging as I inadvertently managed to send a bruiser of a buck back towards the other hunters in their stands.  This big boy was the last and biggest of the week.  Bigger than Eric’s the day before, and bigger than anything I had ever seen in person.  A true southern Ontario giant.

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(There was no way we were carrying this guy out of the bush.  As is, it took a few of the lads to lift this beast onto the four wheeler.)

 

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The veterans in the group immediately started into a conversation about whether or not this was the biggest ever deer taken on the property.   The veterans measured the buck with there aged discerning eyes and mentally compared this trophy against the bucks of old.  To my surprise and amazement, this buck didn’t even break the top 5.  As unbelievable as it sounds, bigger bucks had been taken on the properties we hunted.  And in the groups opinion, bigger bucks would be had in the future.  Regardless of this, the one thing the whole group agreed upon was that the past years had been very tough and this year had been a return to past glories.  I was left confounded, feeling like as much as I had seen in my past 5-6 years of deer hunting, I had yet to even scratch the surface…

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(The reality of the situation became very apparent when the three bucks were stacked up side by side.)

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(the author with the larger than life buck harvested by the youngest of our group)

We did a last run Saturday morning, albeit half heartedly.  With the success we had it was unlikely that the group would actually shoot another deer.  I think deep down we all know when its time to call it a day.  Besides, with six deer hanging, we had a long day of work ahead of us.

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This was a year for the history books, and a year to fill freezers with prized venison.  I’m left with a sense of satisfaction that comes with having a full freezer.  This can often be accompanied by a sense of loss, or depletion, a feeling that we had ransacked the woods and left things in shambles.  This was not the case this year.  My view remained positive as the number of predators seen was way down, the number of deer seen was way up, and better still, the number of deer seen that we didn’t harvest far outweighed the number we shot.  It seems we are in an upswing of the deer cycle in this part of 67.  The sentimental part of me feels like I’m living the soon to be good old days.  And when I’m old and grey, sitting on my porch telling stories of my life gone by to semi interested relatives, this week will likely be one of those stories.

 

 

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Got out to a new property for a turkey hunt this morning.  We recently gained access from the owners for turkey hunting on the property, although we previously had access for deer.  With the amount of turkeys seen during deer season, we knew there had to be birds and are glad to have access.  Gotta say the property owners we deal with are generous folks allowing us to access such a paradise for hunting.  We greatly appreciate their generosity.

We began once again at 5 am, and sat along the edge of a corn field which we knew to be a throughway.  After the first few calls we had a couple gobblers respond but nothing seemed to be moving towards us.  We repositioned within a row of pines next to another field to the north near a gobbler we heard.  Unfortunately the only takers we had were a hen and a curious one eyed racoon.  Pretty neat to see the racoon get right up close to our decoys to inspect them.

Its amazing the things you see in the blind.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

 

 

Another Bird!

After little to no hunting last week, Jordan, Dave and I snuck out this morning at 4:30 am for a little pre-work turkey action.  This would be the first hunt with all three of us since opener, and we had high hopes for an elusive Tom we had been calling all of last week.

We entered into the woods through an area that was opposite where we had been hunting.  Dave and Jordan set up next to a swamp and a field, while I took to the edge of a young soybean field around the corner and next to the same swamp.  Both spots looked great.

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The morning kicked off to a great start as three different birds in three separate locations started to gobble.  The gobbling continued for some time until two of the gobbles slowly died and was replaced by three distinct birds right behind me.  To make matters even more exciting, the gobbles seemed to be getting closer.  Nothing makes a heart pump like a group of approaching turkeys mid season!

Suddenly, the roar of shotgun blast erupted from behind me and the calling promptly ceased.  After shaking off what I’m sure was a mild heart attack,  I frantically checked my phone and learned that Jordan had bagged a nice Jake. His very first Gobbler.

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Way to go buddy!  Sad to have missed being in the stand next to you for the experience but I’m sure there will be many more!

Your up Dave!

 

First Turkey

For many, the purpose of hunting has always been to source out local, organic, natural meat that explores unique flavours not found in domesticated animals.  Still a good number more are attracted to the potential cost savings on meat if you source it out yourself. I have always stood with a foot in each of these camps.  Forever looking for a deal that’s big in taste, while tryin to achieve it on the cheap with my discount, mass produced firearms and inexpensive army surplus camo.  You can be sure I calculate the $/lb cost of all animals I harvest.

So when I did the math on wild turkies I was left scratching my head. A $30 tag gets you 9 – 15 lbs of dressed meat.  That’s a far cry from 100-200 lbs for a 50$ deer tag, and a fair bit more than a butterball.   Based on this math, wild turkeys weren’t even on the menu.

Regardless, I am interested in experiencing all that our local outdoors has to offer, which eventually led me complete the specialized turkey course required for Ontario turkey hunters.  For many years my attentions were on bigger game and the license went unused.  But after a unseasonable warm and disappointing ice fishing season, I was getting stir crazy and needed a reason to get out.  So when a member of my deer group started talking turkey, visions of smoked wild gobblers began dancing in my head, and I started listening.

So here we are, a week into my first legit season of turkey hunting and I can honestly say am a changed man.

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Scouting

After much discussion, and an agreement to commit as much time to the hunt as was needed to harvest a bird, we arrived on the Sunday before opener.  Our plan was to scout the woods in areas where turkeys had been seen before to hopefully locate a group of birds.  According to my friend and most articles I’ve read, finding birds before setting up is crucial.  You can set up the nicest decoys and be the best caller in the world, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if there are no birds in your woods.

So the scouting continued.  I’ll admit I was still pretty hapless at this point, with no real clue as to what to even look for on our scouting trip.  Thankfully, my fellow deer hunter Jordan had grown up around turkey hunting his whole life and right away took us to some spots where the birds usually roosted.  Signs of scratched earth abounded and like many other species, water, food and shelter were key components to these areas.

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We started before daybreak and walked towards our chosen blinds. Unfortunately on our way to our blinds, we walked right under a group of birds that were roosted in the trees, not seeing hem until it was too late.  For those non turkey hunters, this is one of the surest ways to get “busted”.  The turkeys spot you, sometimes before you spot them,  and there is no chance in hell you’ll be able to call them in.  Lesson learned:  Use a locator call to find where they are roosting before you go stumbling through the woods.  Jordan reassured me that the first day was often a bust, but there was valuable intel to be gained, as every bust brought you one step closer to dialing in on the birds.

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Day 2: we took a break.

Day 3: We approached the same area in hopes that the birds had roosted in the same place. unfortunately they hadn’t.  Fortunately for us they had roosted about 100 yards in another direction!  We crept through some scrubby apple trees and crawled up to the edge of a ridge.  Immediately we heard a male gobble, so we set up our decoys 20-30 yards away, sat back to back at the base of a cedar tree, and commenced a series of Kee Kee calls on the Quaker boy box call.  Lesson learned, if you spot them in one place, there is a good chance they wont go too far away, even after being bumped.

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I wasn’t really prepared for things to escalate as quickly as they did.  Within minutes of sitting down the birds had descended from the trees and were making their way to us.  We could tell by the volume of the gobbler the turkeys were getting closer, driven mad by the expert calling skills of my buddy Jordan.  We got a visual on the tom with two hens within 15 minutes of calling.  I can honestly say this led to one of the fastest pulse of my life.  If that wasn’t enough, we heard what all turkey hunters dream of, a competing gobble from another tom that was approaching from another direction.  Things were red hot and my eyes kept darting from the birds we had spotted to the hidden gobbler.  I stilled my heart, slowly raised my Remington 870 while the birds were out of sight, and waited for them to reappear.

The first hen popped out from behind a shrub, followed by a second, followed by a respectable adult male bird. I kept waiting waited for the other Tom who was fast approaching to see if he would appear for a possible double header.  The bird strutted to the clearing towards our hen decoys.

Then the first bird saw me. Then I fired. And then, the second tom headed for the hills.

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Just like that, we had a text book turkey hunt that took no more than 30 minutes.  I. Was. Ecstatic.

Contributors to my success? a damn good caller as a partner, and not moving a bloody muscle.

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My first bird turned out to be a young adult male weighing in at 19lbs fresh and 12lbs fully cleaned. He had a 3″ beard (which isn’t very big) and smaller spurs. Regardless, the bird was my first and my family will feast.

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Day 4, We set up in another location to give the hot spot a rest and almost immediately had a gobbler and a hen answer our calls.  Unfortunately the gobbler didn’t seem to be able to make it to us and we never laid eyes on him.  Lesson learned: locate your birds and choose a setup location that doesn’t have too many obstructions that can’t be navigated by a riled up tom (like a big swamp or well built fences.

Day 5, we decided to try the hot spot again and set up in the same place.  Once again, we immediately had a gobble from the same spot where the first tom had come from.  The call backs went on for a good 1.5 hours.  At times it seemed the Tom was headed in our direction, and then he would head away, and back, and away… repeat for 1.5 hours.  We managed to call in a hen and what looked like a small Jake but no shots were taken.  Still that’s a lot of action for one morning.

So here we are in the second week the night before the first hunt of the week and Im mulling over why ive changed my mind on turkey hunting.  Here’s what I have come up with:

  • For starters, turkey hunting can be some of the most intense action packed and engaging hunting possible In Ontario.
  • Next, the birds are fabulous table fare
  • Each hunt takes a lot less time than sitting in a blind for deer.  Heck my hunts were completed each morning before work and I wasn’t even late!
  • They are sharp birds with a keen sense of hearing and excellent eyesight making them difficult prey.  I do love a challenge.
  • They are a part of our provinces history having been extirpated by unregulated market hunting and habitat loss, and reintroduced to very successful levels.
  • They offer an opportunity to take part in one of the most sustainable hunts in our province and to contribute financially to preserving the provinces natural heritage.  Every dollar you spend on a tag goes to support the MNR and their management of while turkeys and other conservation initiatives.

The whole experience has taught me that life isn’t always about dollars and cents, and pounds per dollar.  Sometimes spending a bit more for something you enjoy is worth it.  Especially wen those extra dollars get you a month long season full of adrenaline packed days, delicious meat, and most importantly, a contribution to preserving the natural beauty and health of our province’s flora and fauna.

The real question here should be why the heck aren’t you hunting turkey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid Season Waterfowl

The recent unseasonable warm temperatures presented me with another chance to get out waterfowling.  Having the opportunity to get out due to the weather was a small kindness considering the effect the temperatures has had on the recent deer season.  But, it pays to be positive and that is how I was seeing this warm weather this week.  Another chance to get out and take a crack at some waterfowl.

Typically, I focus my attention on four-legged creatures of the Cervid variety this time of year but after my buddy Dave had noticed a pile of birds near a spot we had been wanting to try, I was easily convinced to give up an early morning before work.  As an added bonus, temperatures had begun to dip slightly below zero in the evenings and early mornings which seems to have a positive effect on waterfowling.  So as we have done many time before, we made the short drive and 2 km paddle to the spot in question and began setting up our spread of decoys.  We had hoped to hunt this spot earlier in the year but had to change our plans due to another group of hunters who had got up just a bit earlier than us.  That’s just the nature of hunting on public land I guess.  Luckily this time around the place was deserted and we had our pick of the spots.

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We chose a great spot on the eastern shore of the bay to take advantage of the east wind, anticipating the ducks would land into the wind and giving them the bulk of the bay for their approach.   For the first while though it seemed the only thing we could see were buffleheads or other divers.

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The action in our bay heated up a bit as numerous ducks started dropping in and around the far shore of the bay.  Among them was a pretty sizeable drake mallard who at first, didn’t seem interested in our setup despite our best efforts.  Eventually its curiosity got the better of him and he decided to do the zig-zag swim over to check us out.  I expect this was due to Dave’s persistent duck calling which manly consisted of dabbles with the odd call back sequence.  He made it to within the outer reach of the decoys and seemed to stall there warily inspecting our decoys.  I wasn’t going to give him an opportunity to figure out our ruse and after a couple shots and a few minutes later Dave had retrieved my very first bird of the day. How did it cook it? click to find out (Wild duck au poivre).

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As is often the case when you get outdoors in southern Ontario we saw a plethora of wildlife that wasn’t on the menu.  Everything from Pileated Woodpeckers, a flock of tundra swans, snow geese, flocks of Canadian geese (one which landed just near our spread but a bit out of range) and of course a good variety of diving ducks which seem to make their way to our area later in the season.  All great to see and experience.

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Unfortunately we missed an opportunity at another group of mallards and some redheads but with a few tweaks I’m confident we could increase our effectiveness drastically.  Even with the missed shots and small number of birds taken, I like to think success is not only measured in the game you bring home but the lessons you take with you as well.

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And in this case, the lessons were many.

Like paying attention to these seasonal changes and to what other hunters are encountering can be very beneficial to the perceptive hunter. In this case the hunting pressure on water fowl in my local decreases sharply in mid November and coupled with a later migration due to temperatures ended up offering a great hunting opportunity.

Or how about learning to place your goose decoys a bit further from the main mallard spread (but still within range) in order to increase your chances of bringing geese into an effective range.  It seems geese don’t like to drop into a spread of mallards and will offset themselves.

Or don’t drop your guard just because you have bagged a bird.  Those tricky buggers can come out of nowhere and they don’t always see you despite how obvious you think you may be.

Despite the lessons learned from this outing and the bird harvested, the best part of the whole trip didn’t occur in the blind.  Instead it was getting to see the excitement of my 2.5 year old daughter when I brought home the mallard.  I didn’t even have a chance to get one word out and she came running over to see what I had brought home.  She immediately insisted on touching it all the while voicing her observations and making hilarious statements like “I don’t want to touch the beak.  Its weird” or “I want to go hunt ducks”.   You could see the interest and fascination in her eyes, vibrant and intense.  Start them young I always hear, and they will be interested for life.

Maybe that’s the real lesson here..

Cheers from the blind,

Albert

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Deer Season 2015

Well Deer season has arrived and with it, plenty of opportunity for me to get out shooting.  Unfortunately the only shooting I was able to do was with my trusty Nikon.  Cue the dry, pitiful laughter.

This is a far cry from the banner year I had last year but a hunter can’t get lucky all the time.  Well, Unless your my friend (lets call him Big J) that is.  J seems to somehow put himself in the right place at the right time so he can harvest a deer almost every year.  Just like clock work, he managed to harvest a nice 6 point buck, the only deer our group was able harvest.

Im sure lots of factors played a part in our groups lack of success.  Maybe it was the 18 degree Celscius weather or maybe it was due to the lack of drawn doe tags in our group.  Either way, a week without a shot at a legal deer gives you lots of time to think.

Thankfully there was lots of other critters and some great scenery around to observe.  There is nothing like experience nature from the stillness of a deer watch.  If your good at it, the animals wont even know your there.

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All was not lost though.  Despite not shooting any deer I was still able to find a nice shed antler which served as a pretty sweet consolation prize.

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The only buck of the week.  A nice 6 pointer with its brow tines broken off.  Good Job Big J!

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Cheers from the field,

Albert

Duck Opener 2015 – Kingston

Duck season has arrived in Southern Ontario.  So just like many other crazed, sleep deprived hunters, Dave and I got up well before dawn to head out on the water to take part in the tradition.  This time around we had decided to try a new spot on the banks of the Rideau System.  Granted, Heading to a new spot on opening day is gamble, but we felt it was less so seeing as how we had done a fairly extensive online scouting and Dave had made a quick trip days before.  The spot look good.  Really, good.  There seemed to be shallow water around with a good section of weedlines and cattails for blinds.  Lots of open water nearby and good views for spotting incoming ducks.  Overall we liked our chances.

We arrived just as dawn was beginning to chase the night away only to be immediately dismayed with a number of other trucks and trailers parked at our access point.  Gamble made and lost…Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had noticed how good the spot looked.

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But we aren’t ones to give up easy so we loaded the canoe with our decoys and gear and headed out to find a useable spot.  We noticed lots of activity in the areas we planned to hunt so we were forced to settle on a secondary location located in a small shallow bay facing south.   Duck hunting always seems to be filed with such a promise of action and today was no different, so regardless of the large number of hunters out there, our hopes remained high as we set up our decoys   Taking a page out of some recent articles I read, we also threw in a goose decoy just for confidence.  You never know when a lone honker will stop to see what’s going on with your spread.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.  Bangs were going off all around us like the fourth of July but there just didn’t seem to be any birds near us that were in range.  I started to wonder if the folks around us were getting  little too liberal with judging weather or not a shot was makeable.  I can’t really blame them though, I seem to think I can shoot farther on opening day too…..

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After tiring of the lack of useable action and hearing about 300$ worth of shells being shot around us we decided to take a walk around the property and do some scouting for future trips. We knew lots of birds were flying around and with the amount of shooting going on there had to be birds at lower elevations in and around more alluring locations.  As fate would have it, our luck changed and we stumbled upon a weedier section and even got a shot off at a fleeing duck we had stirred up.

We definitely took some lessons away from the hunt with regards to location and have a better idea how to position next time.

As a consolation prize, we came across a wide variety of animals that kept us amused during the lulls.  At one point I was seriously considering taking up squirrel hunting!

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Possibly the best part of the trip was the forgeables we had stumbled upon.  Our blind was practically over grown with wild grapes and chokecherry bushes.  Not only are these fruits useful, they make great cover against wary waterfowl eyes.

The biggest surprise was the apples though.  There seemed to be trees upon trees covered in the delicious treat.  We picked and ate several while we hiked around the property and took a bunch back for apple sauce and jelly.

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Overall the day was enjoyable even if we weren’t bringing birds back with us. Often its just getting out that the most enjoyable part of it all.

Cheers from the blind

Albert