BY DONNIE JOHNSTON THE STAR OF FREE LANCE
Only one of my four walnut trees had nuts this year, but it’s loaded (the other three had good crops last fall, and walnut trees often take a year off).
The nuts started falling about two weeks ago, and when I went down to pick them up, I noticed that many had already been shelled.
The first huller I thought of was a squirrel. But a squirrel would probably take the whole nut and shell it later, or bury it whole.
Then I remembered the day I saw a slaughter of crows under that tree, and they seemed to be busy with something. At the time I thought they were just looking for bugs or possibly just having a social gathering.
Then it hit me. Anyone who has shelled a freshly fallen walnut knows that there are dozens of those little white worms in that black goo between the outer skin and the nut. Those ravens had discovered that the worms were there and figured out a way to get to them.
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That makes sense. After all, chickens love worms. You may recall that in a previous column I wrote about a friend who picks up roadkill and allows the meat to rot in his chicken coop. The hens feed on the worms, which helps with their feed bill.
I have picked walnuts every year since I was a child, but I have never seen or heard of crows shelling walnuts to catch the worms. Maybe my ravens are just innovative. They are very intelligent birds.
Hears! I’m not complaining. She just leaves the fallen nuts a little longer and the crows shell a lot of them for me. It saves me time and work, the birds get a gourmet meal, and everyone is happy.
I haven’t seen anyone hunting pigeons this season.
Fifty years ago, the cornfields, which would have been freshly cut for silage, would have filled with hunters every Saturday afternoon in September. It was as much a social occasion as a hunt.
But those were the days when there were dairy farms that produced and fed silage. Today there are few dairy farms (not a single one left in Culpeper County), so very few farmers cut corn for silage. Instead, they combine the fields, saving the grains and allowing the stalks to go to waste.
Waste corn, which attracts pigeons, is still scattered on the ground, but the combination arrives much later than the silage. That means the heart of the early pigeon season is over before the combination begins.
Also, hunting is slowly going out of style and there are fewer and fewer hunters each year.
Pigeon hunting tests a hunter’s shotgun skills. Those birds are fast and can turn on a dime. I remember a year ago, in the early 1970s, when a group of about 20 guys were hunting on opening day in a long, rectangular field only about 100 yards wide and about 1,000 yards long.
There was a hurricane off the coast that day and the winds were howling with gusts of about 40 mph from north to south. When the pigeons arrived from the north and were flying with the wind, they must have been traveling at 60 mph. You could hear gunshots from one end of the field to the other without a single bird being hit. But when they went in against the wind, there was a shot and a bird in the cooler.
It was not uncommon for a novice hunter to shoot an entire box of shotgun shells (25) and not land a single pigeon.
Pigeon breasts are good to eat and taste a lot like pheasant. But the meat is dry and is best cooked with bacon.
I’m starting to see turkeys, especially in the foothill areas. Ran into about 40 in a flock (probably four hens and their chicks) in Rappahannock County recently and 20 birds crossed my path on a golf course last week.
I am seeing dozens of deer but have only seen two small bucks in my travels. A friend says there are several good bucks hanging around his house, so I’m sure there are some good racks around.
Archery season is underway, with muzzleloader and gun season to follow.