Michael Pearce

Lesser prairie chicken population climbs

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has announced spring helicopter surveys showed America’s lesser prairie chicken population increased 27 percent from similar flights last year.

The Kansas populations grew at about that rate, according to a WAFWA press release. The population in southeast Colorado was up about 70 percent, but the region has had some of the lowest prairie chicken numbers of the five states that have the birds - Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The surveys are done by helicopter, when the birds are on their breeding leks, said Brad Odle, a WAFWA regional biologist in Kansas. In 2012 and again in 2013 the total population fell about 50 percent, largely because of serious drought.

Odle noted that the surveys, and reported population trends, are done before the nesting and brood-rearing seasons. He expects both to be highly successful this spring and summer.

“From every thing I’ve seen, about every where, conditions look optimum,” said Odle. “It’s too early to know much yet, but we should have a good reproduction this year, too.

More updates

Speaking of lesser prairie chickens and WAFWA, the organization now employs four biologists who had strong positions within the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Jim Pitman, Wildlife and Parks past small game program coordinator, left the agency several months ago and handles conservation and landowner issues for WAFWA.

Mike Mitchener, Wildlife and Parks past wildlife section chief, is now a regional biologist with WAFWA.

Brad Odle, Wildlife and Parks past wildlife biologist supervisor, is now a regional biologist supervisor with WAFWA.

Daryl Fisher, Wildlife and Parks past district wildlife biologist, is now a regional biologist with WAFWA.

I continue to get encouraging reports on this year’s pheasant hatch from people who spent a lot of time on the wheat harvest. My favorite quote, from west-central Kansas, is still “80 bushel wheat, 90 bushel pheasants. Cover is pretty good for pheasant broods to survive, too.

Isn’t’ it amazing what happens when it rains. Habitat grows and wildlife responds quickly.

Several friends have seen broods of small quail lately. Since they hatch a few weeks later than pheasants most little quail can barely fly now. Because of their size, and habitat, they’re also less likely to be seen by people. Not many people have seen sizable broods of turkeys this spring and summer. Often, heavy spring rains hurt their nesting and brood rearing activities.

Upcoming coverage

Sometime between now and Monday we should run the article I wrote on the growing popularity of feeding grape jelly to Baltimore orioles. It’s been scheduled to run several days, but postponed when breaking news has taken precedence. Actually, that turned out for the better because last Sunday morning I got some great photography of adult orioles bringing fledglings to our feeder, and actually placing chunks of jelly into the mouths of the young.

Sunday’s Outdoors page will have one of the most enjoyable articles, to write and photograph, I’ve done at The Eagle the 15 years I’ve been here. I got to go fishing with a couple of brothers who share about 170 years (not a typo) of bass fishing experience in the Flint Hills. One is 88 and the other turns 92 in a few weeks, and both are still avid bass fishermen.

I got to go to a gorgeous 20 acre watershed in the Flint Hills with the brothers Tuesday morning. The fishing was good, listening to their stories and getting to know the Barrs was great.

I’m currently working on a story on how Kansas fish farmers are scrambling to meet the demand of landowners who are wanting to re-stock lakes and ponds that went dry during the drought. Another story in the works is on the only true resort at a Kansas reservoir, including how it came about and why we don’t have more resorts on other waters.

There is also a backlog of columns floating around inside my brain that I’d like to get written. One is on the current trend towards pushing duck seasons later and later and what that means to a lot of hunters. You know, the ones who like to hunt ducks and not just mallards.

Since this is the 50th anniversary of Kansas’ first deer season I’m hoping to have several features and blogs on the subject. One column would be on the first time I saw a deer in Kansas. Back then quite a few people didn’t even think we had deer in the state. One teacher openly said I was making things up when at show and tell I told of the seeing the two bucksl. (Cost me one very good recess, too, because I stuck to my story. No biggie, really, because I missed quite a few recesses.)

Michael’s world

My world continues to spin in the right direction. Even my bad days seem pretty danged good to me.

I greatly enjoyed fishing with the Barr brothers and greatly admire their “stay busy” attitudes towards life. To think, their family has been on that piece of prairie for 156 years. There’s still one giant cottonwood left from a tree row their grandfather planted so many years ago.

The fishing was good, though the size was modest on the bass. I may have caught something bigger tossing a bigger bait but from the numbers of small fish I wonder if there are many lunkers in the lake. I had several green sunfish from 8-10 inches, which were super-thick fish, too. The best fish came when I was fishing a Ned Rig just past some spawning sunfish, near a sizable submerged ledge. When I set the hook I had pretty good idea it was not a green sunfish or 14-inch bass.

Instead it was a sizable channel cat that Jim Barr elected to take home for the skillet. He later called and said it weighed 12 pounds, which is about what we figured out in that pasture.

I’m still spending quite a bit of time daily socializing and training Cade, our three-month-old Lab puppy. He continues to learn pretty well, and is always trying to do what makes us happy.

He likes to retrieve more than any pup I’ve worked with, and is showing a good ability to mark the fall of whatever I’m throwing. I have him going out to 40 yards or so in grass about six inches tall. In taller cover, I shorten things up. Knock on wood he’s doing pretty well with the house training, and about the only messes he makes is when neither Kathy or I see him come through the pet door with a stick and he gets a chance to turn it into mulch.

Sunday was one of those “why didn’t I just stay in bed kind of days.” I was stumbling around out in the garden and accidentally uprooted two clusters of squash. As I was reaching down to fix one I ran a piece of wire about a half-inch into the palm of my hand. A couple of hours later I was building a small pigeon coop, stepped just wrong and rolled an ankle. The fall put me down hard in a bed of lava rock, after I bounced against the side of the deck. Several deep bruises and scrapes came from that. I found another ugly cut at the end of the day, and I’m not sure how it happened.

Kathy and I went to dinner later that evening.

For some reason she insisted on driving. Probably a good thing.

Bests,

Michael Pearce

mpearce@wichitaeagle.com

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