“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”[Read more…] about PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: What are “Healthy Forests”?
Risk and Reward for the American Woodcock: the Energy Balance of an Early Migrant in a Late-Winter Storm
By Andy Weik, RGS & AWS Regional Wildlife Biologist
In the snowy North, we look forward to the arrival of woodcock and red-winged blackbirds as the first signs of spring. Woodcock are among the first – if not THE first – ground-nesting birds to begin nesting. Woodcock really push the envelope as they migrate north from southern wintering grounds, moving into open ground along spring seeps, streams and south-facing slopes in search of earthworms and grubs as snow cover recedes. In years when winter segues smoothly into spring, the early-arriving woodcock is rewarded with sufficient food and mild weather to hatch its four-egg clutch within a month of arriving on the breeding range, before most of its predators have extra mouths of their own to feed.
But this year in the Northeast we had spring conditions in the heart of winter. Mild February weather and bare ground enticed woodcock to arrive back in parts of the Northeast up to a month or more earlier than usual, and freeze-ups and snow-falls were brief enough to pose little problem to these hardy birds. Although woodcock hens may not have found enough food to develop eggs and commence laying, woodcock likely were able to find enough food to maintain weight, in other words to not expend more energy than they took in. Woodcock that had arrived on their nesting areas were in a holding pattern until spring arrived and food became more abundant.
And then in March came a sharp cold snap followed within a few days by storm Stella, dumping significant snow across the region. Snow-free, frost-free cover – feeding access – became very limited. Already stressed by the energy demands of migration, woodcock had a hard time finding food, and their energy budgets turned negative. Many lost weight, some died. During the second day of storm Stella I got a call from a worker at the Newark, New Jersey airport reporting several dead or weakened woodcock, and a gentleman in Connecticut emailed asking how to care for and release a weakened woodcock he had picked up. Social media sites lit up with pictures and video of woodcock feeding or huddled in snow-free gaps along small brooks or next to houses. A wildlife rehabilitator in NYC reported a sharp uptick in emaciated and dead woodcock, and one in Maine also reported receiving numerous emaciated woodcock. The Raptor Trust (Millington, NJ) posted on Facebook “Winter Storm Stella – we admitted more Woodcocks at The Raptor Trust than in the entire 2016 calendar year.”
So, what does it all mean in the big scheme of things? Late winter or spring snow storms that stress and kill woodcock are nothing new. The most memorable for me was 2007, when a Nor’easter hit the Northeast hard in the middle of April, causing widespread flooding and dropping several inches of snow on coastal Maine. For eastern Maine, this was one of 3 or 4 significant snow storms that maintained nearly complete snow-cover for the month of April, after many woodcock had returned in March. The woodcock singing male count at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge dropped by 41 percent that spring, and surveys on the Refuge indicated minimal woodcock production. It took three years for Moosehorn’s woodcock population to recover to pre-2007 numbers; Maine’s statewide singing male count dropped that year also, but rebounded one year later.
This year, the mild weather and lack of snow in February was more significant than storm Stella in March. In a typical year, this snow storm would not have generated nearly the discussion among timberdoodle enthusiasts, as typically the landscape would be snow-covered in February and most of the birds would not have been back yet; however, birds were back and the snow was significant and widespread. The effect of a “Stella” will depend largely on two factors – weather that follows (duration of freezing temperatures, a warm spell, additional snow storms, rain, etc), and the proportion of woodcock that have migrated north vs. those that were still south of the storm. We’ve learned through research, such as the recent satellite telemetry migration study, that not all woodcock have the same migration strategy – they follow varying routes to the same destination, and some arrive as early as possible whereas others lag behind. Now we can look forward to the results of local and regional woodcock singing ground surveys as we keep an eye on the activity of the little russet fellows in our home coverts.
For more info on American woodcock ecology
For info Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society habitat programs
Become a member of the American Woodcock Society: www.ruffed.org
THEY SAID IT! . . . Best Quotes from the Spring RGS Magazine
By Matt Soberg
Are you an upland hunter? Bird dog owner? Shotgun lover?
Have you become afflicted by the grouse and woodcock hunting addiction? Do you care about the future of our sporting traditions?
If you answer “yes” to any of the above, the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine is a must see – a one stop shop for everything grouse and woodcock hunting and forest habitat conservation – hunting tips, bird dog info, gun reviews, book reviews, cooking recipes, classic hunting stories, habitat management information . . . the list goes on and on.
The Ruffed Grouse Society magazine comes as a member benefit – not only do you get all this grouse and woodcock hunting information, but your membership gives back to the resource we cherish of healthy forest habitat and abundant grouse and woodcock populations.
They said it! Here are some of the best quotes from the upcoming Spring 2017 Ruffed Grouse Society magazine . . .
“Much of the pleasure of shooting is what accompanies it and sharing it all with a good friend.” ~ George Bird Evans, The Upland Shooting Life (1971)
“The thought of losing the little things we love about grouse and woodcock hunting, some as simple as twirling a tail feather in your fingers, watching a puppy’s first day afield and shaking the hand of a smiling new hunter, reveals truly what is at stake for the future of our sporting traditions if we don’t strive to create healthy forests now.” ~ “Editor Note – The Little Things” by RGS & AWS Editor Matt Soberg
“Childhood memories of hunting with my father revolved around the pursuit of cottontails . . . I became as excited as an English setter prior to a grouse hunt when I found out we were headed to the nearby woodpiles and swamps . . . I didn’t spin circles or white nonstop, but set to work gathering vests, shells and guns in preparation for another grand adventure in the woods with Dad.” ~ “Gift Guns” by Kirk Brumels
“If you’re a piece of work similar to either a Van Gogh or a Velvet Elvis, you won’t find them here. Instead, you’ll find a wonderful variety of work that ranges from oils, etchings, line drawings, parchment and ink, watercolors, pastels, wood burnings, carvings and folk art. It’s tough to tell if this crew are bird hunters first and artists second. In the end, it doesn’t matter, for whether they’re running dogs or working in their studios, they are as serious as a heart attack.” ~ “Art from the Uplands and the Lowlands” by Tom Keer
“We cannot and will not allow the Forest Service to continue their failure to provide the young forest habitats required by the ruffed grouse, American woodcock, golden-winged warbler and other game and nongame wildlife on national forests throughout the Eastern United States.” ~ “President’s Message – Cup Half Full or Half Empty?” RGS & AWS President & CEO John Eichinger
“Thought must be given to both site-specific and landscape-scale goals if we are to maximize the value of our work for the species and communities about which we care.” ~ “Adjusting Our Scope to Maximize the Value of Forest Management” by RGS & AWS Regional Biologist Scott Walter
“The failure of the Endangered Species Act to live up to its promise is in part due to elements of the legislation that, although well intentioned, have become substantial hurdles to its successful implementation, in part due to agency and judicial interpretations that have become barriers rather than pathways to success, and in part due to over-zealous preservationists seemingly more interested in producing lists than protecting species.” ~ “RGS Voice – Protecting Species?” by RGS & AWS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker
“So the next time you miss a grouse or two or even three, you may not need to swear into the wind after missing a relatively easy straight away and proclaim out loud that you may be the world’s worst wing shot . . . the answer may simply be that you own one of the poorest fitting grouse guns in America. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” ~ “In Search of the Perfect Grouse Gun . . . “ By Bryan E. Bilinski
“Maybe we don’t see enough pump guns in the grouse woods and woodcock bottoms these days. Back in say the 1920s and beyond, pump guns predominated – all because they were less expensive, extremely durable and light compared to semi-autos of yesteryear. If you’re not a pump gun guy or gal, maybe it’s time to re-think that position.” ~ “A Pump Gun for Grouse and Woodcock” by Nick Sisley
“We love our bird dogs, though admittedly, many of us have a tendency to be “kennel blind” from time to time. Admit it . . . Guilty as charged . . . I strive to learn every time I go to the field. Here are a few of my observations from seasons past . . . “ ~ “Tips from Purina Pro Plan – Mind Your Bird Dog Manners” by Keith Schopp
“Dogs have 319 bones, compared to our 206. We all – humans and canines – have lots of joints connecting those bones. And as we all know, it’s tough to get a sporting dog to go slow.” ~ “Purely Dogs – Joint Health and Injury Prevention” by Bob West and Lisa Price
“His tales are not built on the redundant plot of points, flushes, gun report and success or failure . . . Each should be individually savored, as they were written as stand-alone works. Among the Aspens is not just a place to spend time each autumn, but an insightful read, enjoyable no matter the season.” ~ Glen R. Blackwood review of Among the Aspens by Thomas Carney
“I have sought to create a recipe that aims to celebrate the ritualistic nature of returning home from the woods after a great day bagging grouse.” ~ “Roasted Grouse with Hunter-Style Gravy” by Jack Hennessy
“I am convinced more than ever that conservation is crucial to the future of our wildlife. It has become my personal challenge to recruit other teenagers to the join the efforts of my peers who attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy.” ~ “My Wildlife Leadership Academy Experience” by WLA Attendee Zara Moss
Check out a sneak peek of the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine or become a member at www.ruffed.org to start getting the magazine in your mailbox. For a limited time get the magazine, an RGS-patched had, a Jay Dowd artwork long-sleeve T-shirt, and a chance to win a SportDOG Tek 2.0 – only $35. www.ruffed.org
Today, the Ruffed Grouse Society brought together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance future young forest habitat in the Driftless Region.
Today (August 16, 2016) the Ruffed Grouse Society launched the Driftless Young Forest Symposium in La Crosse, Wisconsin to bring together agency professionals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois to focus on landscape-scale goals to enhance young forest habitat in the Driftless Region. Symposium goals include providing a clear understanding of the area forest use trends and wildlife impacts, to recognize challenges of forest management in this region and to identify and embrace opportunities for potential landscape-scale benefits to young forest habitat in the future.
Partners providing resources for the Driftless Young Forest Symposium include the Ruffed Grouse Society, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The Driftless Region encompasses southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois and is noted for its deeply carved valleys and streams that were a result of this area escaping glaciation. Photo from NRCS.
The welcome address was presented by Kurt Thiede, deputy secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who discussed the Wisconsin Young Forest Partnership and the importance of agencies working together for the benefit of young forest initiatives. RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist for Wisconsin Scott Walter gave the opening remarks and moderated all presentations while Tricia Gorby-Knoot, research sociologist and economist for the Wisconsin DNR, discussed trends in the composition of the forests of the Driftless Region and urged professionals to take action in the region to make a difference.
The keynote speaker was RGS Director of Conservation Policy Dan Dessecker who provided wildlife impacts of long-term forest trends in the Driftless Region. He stated that wildlife conservation need not be complicated by stating, “To sustain the full array of forest wildlife, we must sustain the full array of wildlife habitats.” He urged that public perception is the only reality when it comes to the view of forest management, and that a major challenge for the Driftless area is that the landscape is 90 percent privately owned. Because of that, he stated, “Wildlife is the window through which the public views our forests,” and stressed that it is necessary to help private landowners understand that if they want wildlife on their property, forest management is the key. Healthy forests = healthy wildlife populations.
The Symposium continues through tomorrow (August 17, 2016) with state reports (Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin), small group discussions, open group discussions for future plans, and a presentation on a model for landscape-scale management of the Driftless Region by Brad Hutnik and Greg Edge, forest ecologists for the WI DNR.
For more information about habitat management in the Driftless Region, contact RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Scott Walter, ScottW@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org, or RGS Regional Wildlife Biologist Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, MeadowK@RuffedGrouseSociety.Org.
For more information about the Ruffed Grouse Society, go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.
By Andrew P. Weik – RGS & AWS Regional Wildlife Biologist – New York, New England
After a spring seemingly favorable to ground nesting birds such as grouse and woodcock, summer thus far, into late July, has been drier than usual in my region. In fact, the lack of rainfall across many areas of the Northeast has resulted in drought conditions (see map below). The colors on the map show yellow as “abnormally dry”, beige as “moderate drought” and orange as “severe drought”.
What effect does this have on woodcock? During normal soil moisture conditions, earthworms are more abundant in hardwood (e.g. alder) stands than under conifers (e.g. spruce and fir), and woodcock preferentially use hardwood stands presumably because of the greater prey availability in these stands; conifer stands are one of the least-preferred daytime forest covers.
Research by Greg Sepik and others, reported in the 1983 Transactions of the Northeast Section of the Wildlife Society, on woodcock at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine in the late 1970s showed that during summer drought, woodcock shifted habitat use from predominantly hardwood cover to predominantly coniferous cover. They also greatly reduced use of night roost habitats, apparently because it was energetically unfeasible to make the dawn and dusk flights to and from the night roost areas. The authors go on to say, “By the end of August all age classes and sexes of woodcock normally have begun to increase in weight (Owen and Krohn 1973). During the last two weeks in August 1978 (the drought year) all woodcock captured were from 5-41% (mean =19%) below the average weights reported by Owen and Krohn (1973) for that period. Licinsky (1972) reported that a 40% weight loss resulted in the death of two captive woodcock, thus some woodcock in 1978 may have starved.”
Birds typically molt (drop and regrow) their wing feathers annually. This is an energetically and nutritionally demanding process. During the 1978 drought year, Sepik and colleagues found that three times as many female woodcock delayed or skipped molting some of their flight feathers compared to normal, apparently due to a shortage of food in late summer.
An important thing to remember is the 1978 drought referenced in the above study continued through August; precipitation throughout the rest of this summer could greatly alter the severity and pattern of drought.
Earlier this spring, the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society determined at a strategic planning meeting that public resistance to scientifically sound habitat management practices was one of the top three significant and long-term impediments to the future of healthy forest habitat benefiting not only ruffed grouse and American woodcock but a wide array of forest wildlife.
Every so often we are given a clear illustration of how the public can be misled on forest management and become resistant to habitat improvements. A perfect example filled with inaccurate information and is consequently hampering efforts by foresters and wildlife biologists to manage for the full array of forest wildlife is the recently published article, The Rise and Fall of the Ruffed Grouse and Associated Myths.
This article provides inaccurate, unsubstantiated and misleading information about the ruffed grouse population decline in Indiana. Ruffed grouse in Indiana are threatened with extirpation and hunting has been suspended. The formerly robust population of ruffed grouse in the state has been reduced roughly 98% in the past 25 years. Drumming surveys have found zero displaying males the past four years (see graph below). Efforts to recover a sustainable population are under threat from legislation being advanced by special interest groups aiming to eliminate sustainable forest management, herbicide use to control invasive species, and the ability to conduct prescribed fire on large swaths of public land despite the fact that roughly 46% of publicly owned forested land is already closed to active forest management.
We chose to briefly respond via social media and were joined by the professional and thoughtful responses from members of the Indiana RGS chapter. The full RGS and AWS response is as follows:
Thank you for bringing attention to the plight of ruffed grouse and, by association, other young forest species in Indiana. Ruffed grouse were once very common in Indiana but are a recent addition to the State’s list of Endangered and Special Concern Species. The Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society have a mission of Healthy Forests, Abundant Wildlife, and Sporting Traditions. We strongly support science-based sustainable forest management that promotes all forest ages classes. In order to sustain the full array of forest wildlife, we need to sustain the full array of forest wildlife habitats, young, old, and all ages in between. We are committed to maintaining habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and wildlife that require young forests. To that end we employ 6 full-time wildlife biologists with advanced degrees (24% of our entire staff) who specialize in the study and restoration of young forest habitat and the suite of wildlife that depend on it.
Data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey North American Breeding Bird Survey from 1966 until 2013 across private and public lands in Indiana help paint the picture. In Indiana, mature forest bird species are faring considerably better than young forest species which are dependent on disturbance, such as even-aged timber management, to create maximum sunlight conditions on the forest floor resulting in the natural regeneration of thick high stem density habitat (not necessarily edge habitat). Here are the data:
Woodland (Mature forest) breeding species in Indiana:
Species with significant positive trend estimates 38%
Species with significant negative trend estimates 16%
Successional or scrub (Young forest) species in Indiana:
Species with significant positive trend estimates 11%
Species with significant negative trend estimates 42%
The American woodcock is another young forest dependent bird. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing-ground counts for Indiana in 2015 surveyed 18 routes and found a 6.78% decrease in the number of singing males as compared to 2014. This number is worse than the overall annual decrease of 4.19% since 1968. This is by far the highest annual rate of decline of any state in the American Woodcock Central Management Region (second is Ohio with a 1.25% annual decline).
The preponderance of data and research indicate that the primary driver for the decline of young forest wildlife species in Indiana is the aging of Indiana’s forests due to lack of disturbance and even-aged forest management. Data for public and private land from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program show that 0-19 year old forest stands have declined from 874,259 acres in 1986 to only 252,488 acres in 2013. During that same period the amount of forested land in the state actually increased from roughly 4.4 million acres to 4.9 million acres and forest stands 100 years or older increased from 214,080 acres to 326,793 acres.
The current SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) third party certified management of Indiana’s State Forests is helping shift the balance of forest age classes back to where they need to be to support young forest wildlife. An increase in even-aged forest management on the Hoosier National Forest and private lands will be required to complete this work and begin to restore the ruffed grouse population in Indiana as well as those of other young forest wildlife. Decades of hands-off management have led to the current unbalanced age class conditions of Indiana forests. Since harvest rates were at or near zero for an extended period of time young forest species will require a sustained period of even-aged management across ownerships and the forested landscape at a rate even higher than what is currently being practiced. We hope the management efforts needed will be implemented at the scale required for ruffed grouse and other wildlife to benefit. This will take time as the current habitat is in very poor shape, grouse do not begin extensively utilizing stands until roughly 10 years post-harvest, and the fragmented remnant populations are in isolated pockets of suitable habitat making repopulation more difficult and exposing female grouse expanding their territories through open understory mature woodlands to higher predation by avian predators (by far the main predators of ruffed grouse).
In regards to this quote from the earlier post, “Several other factors that have likely contributed to the decline of Ruffed Grouse include: predation from coyotes and foxes, competition and nest predation from Wild Turkey, a low point in the normal ten-year population cycles (Ruffed Grouse Society, 2015),” there is no scientific merit to these statements and it is unclear why they would be attributed to the Ruffed Grouse Society. The grouse cycle is more pronounced in the northern part of the grouse range and is not a factor in Indiana. All metrics, including grouse drumming surveys, used to monitor the population of this bird in Indiana have clearly and unquestionably shown an exponential decline approaching extirpation from the state and are completely unrelated to any cycle. Finally, examples in the scientific literature of the benefits of even-aged forest management for ruffed grouse and other young forest wildlife are legion.
The following websites should be reviewed by interested readers to further their knowledge of young forest management:
A GROUSE HUNTER’S ALMANAC
The Other Kind of Hunting
By Mark Parman
Published 2010 – University of Wisconsin Press
Mark Parman has been a longtime contributor of classic grouse and woodcock hunting stories to the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine. A favorite Parman articles is “What He Carried”, which was published in the fall 2013 issue and features an introspective story about the possessions and superstitions that make grouse and woodcock hunters a unique group. The story starts with, “Each possession (of a grouse hunter) brings with it reminders of special days gone by.” If you are a grouse hunter, you understand this inexplicable phenomenon. The story talks about the symbols of grouse hunting that captivate us all throughout the year. He writes, “In late winter, he notes a grouse feather floating across the wood floor of his living room or kitchen, escapees from his gamebag, or he finds one stuck to the wet nose of his dog. He doesn’t mind the feathers. He picks one up, twirls the rachis in his fingers and is carried back to October.” Has this happened to any of you during bitter cold January? I suspect it has.
Being a fan of Parman’s writing and his ability to explain simple events in life that resonate with grouse hunters, I was excited to review his book A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac – The Other Kind of Hunting for this issue of the magazine. For the sake of not burying the lead, this book is recommended to any grouse and woodcock literature fan or for any hunter who wants to read Parman’s take on many aspects of the grouse hunt experience. Parman does it again with relating his personal stories to a broader audience and raises some important issues that we as grouse hunters need to discuss and answer. He is clear and honest with his own beliefs on the sport but presents them in a fashion that is open-minded and impartial allowing the reader to make up their own mind.
It never hurts to use the Aldo Leopold quote from A Sand County Almanac, “There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting and ruffed grouse hunting,” which Parman uses to set the tone on the inside of the cover, a quote that sets grouse hunting apart from others. His preface honors his bird dogs, a Weimaraner and an English setter, through time and connects them specifically to the purpose of the book, a theme that readers will see hold strong throughout. He writes, “I can still see them pointing, retrieving, and tearing around the woods and fields in the prime of their short but full lives.”
Parman takes us on a journey through the seasons of the grouse hunt experience (early season, midseason and lateseason) in his northern Wisconsin covers. Through his personal stories, he explores a wide array of grouse hunting topics from the birds themselves, bird dogs, how woodcock fit in, the grouse cycle, grouse as food and huntable covers. He weaves in discussions on whether to shoot wild flushes, grouse gun preference, the pace of the hunt and hunting gear.
In comparing grouse hunting to other types of hunting, Parman introduces deep-level discussions on ethics and etiquette, “Today the goal often is to dominate nature, unlike Leopold’s purpose, which was to participate in nature. Hunters talk about ‘crushing,’ ‘smacking,’ or ‘smoking’ birds, as if the hunt were a contest scored between the hunter and the hunted . . . fortunately, record books for grouse don’t exist.”
With the ever-present need to diversify grouse hunting to youth, women and new hunters, I found how Parman raises the issue particularly interesting, “In our postnuclear information age, grouse hunting seems quaint, old-fashioned pursuit, like making firewood or hiving bees, and I often wonder if the younger generation will continue the tradition or trade it for a video game that simulates the experience indoors. Grouse hunting seems connected to our distant past, the one peering out at me from old black and white photos at the courthouse and the county historical society, and it’s difficult to project its future, particularly when much of the younger generation doesn’t seem all that interested in walking a couple of miles over rough country just to get a shot at a bird.”
Overall, A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac – The Other Kind of Hunting is a great addition to your grouse hunting library – Parman celebrates the intricacies of grouse hunting, and through his experiences, the reader learns valuable information from dogs, habitat to gear while being challenged by issues that need to answered for the sake of grouse hunting’s future. ~ Review by Matt Soberg
A Grouse Hunter’s Almanac can be purchased for $19.95 on RGS-Mart at ruffedgrousesociety.org. – Use the Discount Code USA1776 by July 4, 2016 to get approximately 11% off plus free FedEx SmartPost shipping.
RGS and AWS staff and their dogs convened at headquarters in Pittsburgh last week to plan for the future of habitat programs, membership, events and communications.
RGS and AWS staff and some of their grouse dogs convened at headquarters near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last week to plan for the future of habitat programs, membership initiatives, events and communications. Numerous presentations and break-out sessions allow staff to collaborate planning at the national level and also specific to their regions. Biologists, regional directors and headquarters staff are able to meet and plan in-person and brainstorm ways to create and implement more effective and efficient programs that enhance healthy forests that support abundant wildlife and preserve our sporting traditions for future generations.
Presenters focused on recent highlights, new ideas and specifically focused on challenges that need to be overcome. This meeting discussed in detail RGS and AWS habitat programs, the Petition for Rulemaking, RGS-owned habitat machines, habitat outreach programs and more. The organizations also discussed ways to better recruit and retain hunters, specifically the implementation for the New Hunter Mentor and Women’s Intro to Wingshooting programs. Plans were made for communications content in digital, video and print for the magazine, blog, social media platforms and more with specific plans for a new-member drive coming this fall.
Visit www.ruffedgrousesociety.org for more information about how RGS and AWS impact the future of forest habitat and upland hunting.
2015 Annual Report – read the 2015 RGS & AWS Annual Report that provides a comprehensive and statistical highlight of habitat programs, membership, financials and communications from last year with a specific “thank you” to sponsors and supporters. Read HERE.
Exclusive Grouse Hunting Content – Get exclusive grouse hunting and conservation information from the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine – see the summer online teaser HERE. For only $35, you receive up to 100 pages of grouse hunting and conservation information exclusive to members in addition to assurance you are supporting North America’s foremost forest conservation organization.
Getting out of Michigan in early April during a late winter weather blast is always a fun time. Earlier this year, I was fortunate to not only get out of town right before a week of forecasted “wintry mix” but also to spend time with biologists from around the country at the Woodcock Wingbee being held this year in Mobile, Alabama. The Wingbee is an annual event and culmination of the Wing-collection Survey. Here is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service description of the Survey and Wingbee:
The primary objective of the Wing-collection Survey is to provide data on the reproductive success of woodcock. The survey is administered as a cooperative effort between woodcock hunters, the FWS, and state wildlife agencies. Wing-collection Survey participants were provided with prepaid mailing envelopes and asked to submit one wing from each woodcock they bagged. Hunters were asked to record the date of the hunt as well as the state and county where the bird was shot. Hunters were not asked to submit envelopes for unsuccessful hunts. The age and gender of birds were determined by examining plumage characteristics during the annual woodcock wingbee conducted by state, federal, and private biologists. The ratio of immature birds per adult female in the harvest provides an index to recruitment of young into the population. The… recruitment index for each state with greater-than-or-equal-to 125 submitted wings was calculated as the number of immatures per adult female.
Woodcock hunters from around the country participate with representation from nearly the entire woodcock range. Wings arrive in varying conditions. Some are perfectly laid out and were likely pinned to cardboard and dried before sending in. These folks get a gold star. Others, clearly those sent in by GSP owners, are little more than nuggets of dried blood and feathers. Most wings can be identified after a few seconds of careful examination. Sometimes a ruler needs to be brought out or even a dissection scope. There are a number of seasoned pros who have attended this event for 10+ years and are very good at helping with ID and questionable wings.
The first order of business is for the Wingbee participants to pass an exam to make sure their ID skills are polished. Once passed, you pick out a seat, grab a box of envelopes and get to work. Many familiar names are on the envelopes: RGS committee members, various state agency employees, woodcock banders, old friends and new friends. The first folder I picked up was from a guy who bought a setter from my Great Uncle and is one of the rare breed of woodcock hunters from Indiana. Later the next day, I picked out one from a guy who bought a pup from me the previous year and likely shot it over that dog. Patterns develop and the real woodcock gurus start to show up with their numerous envelopes with three wings in each indicating a limit for the day they hunted.
This year the biologists at the Wingbee went through 11,292 woodcock wings. This is the numeric breakdown by cohort:
Adult Female = 4,028
Immature Female= 2,348
Adult Male = 2,300
Immature Male = 2,507
Raw age ratio (immatures/adult female) = 1.21
This age ratio has not yet been broken down by region but is likely going to be on the very low part for both the Eastern and Central woodcock Management Regions. Below is a long term ratio for both regions:
From: Cooper, T.R., and R.D. Rau. 2015. American woodcock population status, 2015. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, Maryland. 16 pp.
The event is not only a useful wildlife management tool but also a time for presentations on current woodcock research as well as discussions on potential collaboration, new projects, the state of woodcock in the United States, and anything and everything woodcock related. I am grateful for being able to attend and spend time with the other biologists. It would be hard to find anyone more dedicated to young forest wildlife than the folks that attend this event.
This past weekend, RGS staff members were fortunate to attend the now annual Woodcock Banding Clinic at Pineridge Grouse Camp near Remer, Minnesota. I (RGS/AWS Regional Director Nick Larson) was joined by coworkers: Mark Fouts, director of member relations and outreach; Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, regional wildlife biologist and Ted Dick, MN DNR forest game bird coordinator. We walked away from this weekend completely satisfied, excited about the future of woodcock banding as well as having an even greater appreciation for the unique and amazing bird that is the American woodcock.
The format for the weekend consisted of significant classroom time, which included presentations by experienced and certified woodcock banders Earl Johnson and Donna Dustin. Also included was a presentation by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and a habitat walk on Pineridge property with Kevin Sheppard of ABC. Other experienced banders present were Terry Petro, Tye Sonney and Jerry Forgit. Among them, they have cumulatively banded hundreds of woodcock and shared a constant stream of information, experiences and strategies for all of the future woodcock banders in attendance. Our afternoons consisted of breaking off into smaller groups to train and certify dogs, as well as search for woodcock broods to band. Experienced banders were paired with apprentice newcomers, and we took to the woods in the surrounding area.
Bird dogs play an important and unique role to this type of woodcock banding, specifically pointing dogs. For those not familiar with the process, a pointing dog is run in suspected nesting cover much like a hunting scenario. When the dog goes on point, the banders then move in, extremely carefully in order to first secure the dog by tying it to a tree on a short lead and then begin searching for birds on the ground. Once the dog is secure, banders must tread carefully as the woodcock hen and/or chicks are absolute masters of camouflage as any experienced woodcock hunter knows. Most of the banders time is spent standing perfectly still and scanning the ground until the tiny birds take form and appear on the ground below. Once all of the birds are accounted for and visually marked, the banders swiftly gather them up and gently place them in mesh bags on the ground for temporary holding. At this point, banders carefully and quickly record the necessary data, place bands on legs and return the birds to their natural cover. The dog is untied and led in the opposite direction as the banders leave the area and let the hen return to the brood.
The experience at Pineridge Grouse Camp last weekend was certainly one to remember. The group of people that came together to participate shared a unique interest and passion for the American woodcock. That was evident throughout the weekend in all presentations, conversations and activities. Many of the newcomers, were fortunate enough to find our first broods and band our first woodcock chicks under the supervision of certified banders. Being able to find a brood of woodcock in their native habitat with the help of a good bird dog and then subsequently handling and banding chicks before releasing them left a lasting impression. As experienced bander Tye Sonney told me, after banding your first bird, you’ll be smiling about it for days. The experience also left me with an interest and a motivation to get involved and be a part of the banding effort next spring.
The more birds successfully banded, the more bands will be returned and/or called-in upon harvest. This in turn increases the data points for researchers in the ongoing study of woodcock habitat and biology. If a bird dog and bander can help in that effort, you can bet we’re going to take the opportunity to get involved. If not for the simple pleasure and enjoyment of getting out in the spring woods, then certainly to support the conservation effort of the birds we love and treasure.
THANK YOU to Jerry Havel and Pineridge Grouse Camp for supporting this event and making it happen. All participants enjoyed first rate accommodations at Pineridge, and it would be tough to think of a better venue for this type of event. Also, a huge THANK YOU goes out to Earl Johnson and Donna Dustin for coordinating the event and providing the formal educational component of the clinic. Their extensive knowledge and experience with woodcock banding was impressive and rivaled only by their willingness and passion for sharing this information and passing it along to a new group of hopeful woodcock banders. Thank you to Kevin Sheppard and his crew from American Bird Conservancy for the time and information they shared as well as their continued efforts in the conservation of woodcock and other bird species. To everyone else involved, THANK YOU for making this a special weekend.
For more information on woodcock banding in the state of Minnesota, please contact: Donna Dustin, Woodcock Banding Coordinator; 218-849-2148; email@example.com