Michael Pearce newsletter: Monday marks 100 years since passenger pigeon extinction

Some estimates put the passenger pigeon population at 5 billion or more birds in the early 1800s. Most experts agree they were the most common animal in North America for centuries. John James Audubon once described a flock that took two days to pass overhead because it was so large. In the early 1870s they were still very common, and in some huge flocks numbering in the millions.

By 1900 they were virtually gone from the wilds. Martha, a captive-born bird, died Sept. 1, one hundred years ago next Monday.


On a happier note, those out scouting doves in preparation for the Sept. 1 opening of dove season report seeing decent numbers of birds. Densities are pretty scattered, though, as more cornfields are being cut. Also, the wet summer means water probably won’t be concentrating the birds in many areas.

I’ve received some pretty nice reports of pheasant, quail and wild turkey broods around central Kansas the past few days. It won’t be anything like we had five years ago, but there should at least be enough birds to give hunters some optimism. Some of the best quail reports have been in the Flint Hills. Some of the best pheasant reports have been in the Stafford and Reno county areas.

A lot of people seem impressed by the quantity and quality of deer they’re seeing too, which seems strange because both seemed pretty suppressed the past two years. I have no clue how a localized population can go from no decent bucks to one of the best crops in several years in just 12 months, but it’s happened in some places.

Fishermen are doing pretty well. Wipers and white bass were surfacing, chasing schools of white bass during those hot days of the past few weeks. Channel and blue catfishing have been good, too.


Saturday’s front page should have an article on El Dorado State Park, with the angle being how it’s Kansas’ most-used state park most years but it still has plenty of room for a quality outdoors experience. This is the fifth of sixth monthly features I’ve been doing on Kansas state parks this spring and summer.

Sunday’s Outdoors page will have a feature on the Wichita State University Shooting Sports Team, and a big invitational tournament they’re hosting Sept. 6-7. The team was barely formed a year ago and is doing pretty well in competition, and raising funds. They get no financial help from the university.

The Outdoors page will also have a collection of outdoors notes, including a small column on passenger pigeons and a state sporting clays shooting that’s being held very close to Wichita.

Down the road a few weeks I’m hoping to have an update on the crowds that gather at some of the dove fields on public hunting areas, and a preview of what the Wichita Audubon Society has planned for their upcoming 60th anniversary celebration.


Michael’s world was plenty cool last week, while the world around south-central Kansas was pretty hot. We were at a family vacation in Big Sky, Mont. As Sunday’s Outdoors page showed, I did some fly fishing on a couple of rivers. I also found out the lake a few steps from our condo held some nice fishing for rainbow and brook trout. I think my best brookie was 13 inches, which may be my best-ever.

And my best fishing at the lake was last Saturday when the high for the day was 42 degrees, with a light mist falling. I was wearing a hoodie, a rain jacket and still had to come inside after about an hour to warm up by the fire. It was 34 degrees the next morning, with snow on a lot of the mountain peaks. Feeling the heat when we got off the plane in Wichita that night was an unwanted shock.

I’m hoping to get some time freed up over the next few weeks, so I can do some fishing, maybe some dove hunting, but mostly spend time with Hank, our Lab. At 13 1/2 his body is betraying him more and more. We’ve spent more to treat ailments in the past month or two, probably, than through his entire life. He’s having liver problems, and has a serious skin irritation that has the vets stumped. His lungs are wearing out, his back legs have no strength...you get the picture, I’m sure.

He still seems to be enjoying things. Like most Labs, he eats very well and loves attention, but little things are becoming bigger and bigger problems for the old guy.

I’m afraid I’ll be facing a tough decision in the pretty near future, but it’s one I’ll make for his comfort and not my personal emotions. He has served me amazingly well all through these years, as a hunting dog and good companion. I owe him far more than I can ever repay him, and if that means compassion that hurts me, so be it.

We’re pretty darned close. I have a feeling Hank will let me know when it’s his time. I know I will answer the call.


Michael Pearce