September 28, 1995

Predictions Mixed On Birds Birds Could Be Hiding, But Outlook Negative

Fenton Roskelley Correspondent
 

Washington biologists are hedging their bets when predicting pheasant populations this year.

The counting of broods in the Spokane region and in the Columbia Basin recently indicated that the chick survival rate was down considerably from that of last year.

In the Spokane region, Fish and Wildlife Department biologists said this season could be similar to that of 1993, when the number of birds was down 32 percent from the five-year average.

However, biologists noted that during recent surveys the vegetation was so thick and lush as the result of above-average early summer rainfall that many birds may have escaped detection.

The most productive areas in the Spokane region, as usual, will be the counties adjacent to the lower Snake River.

The highest concentration of pheasants are in the Steptoe and Almota game management units in Whitman County and the Mayview and Starbuck units along the Snake River breaks in Columbia and Garfield counties.

There are enough pheasants in Spokane, Whitman and Lincoln counties for fair hunting, particularly when the birds are most plentiful early in the season.

This could be one of the worst years on record for pheasant hunting in the Columbia Basin.

“Pheasant brood surveys showed a 53 percent decline in the number of broods and a 52 percent decline in the number of chicks per brood,” commented Basin regional wildlife manager Mark Quinn. “Overall pheasant populations in the Basin have been very low since 1990.

“This year, just over six pheasant chicks were observed per day, compared to 13 last year, 8 in 1993, 11 in 1992 and 4 in 1991. Through most of the 1980s that number averaged 34.”

He said habitat restoration efforts on and around some department lands have been successful, but the lands are a small percentage of the Basin.

“Hunters should look for pheasants in good, permanent cover near grain fields,” he advised. “The south part of the Basin has better habitat and more pheasants than the northern half.

“The areas along the irrigation wasteways also have fair pheasant populations, but the cattails and bulrushes can be very thick and difficult, if not impossible, to hunt without a good dog.

“Very lush vegetation from early spring moisture along most survey routes may have made broods more difficult to see and actual declines may be less than observed.”

Wildlife agents agree. A few have reported seeing just as many pheasants this year as last.

Chukar hunters already know that the chukar population is low in southeastern Washington. They’ve had mediocre shooting since the opening of the early season on Sept. 22.

On the other hand, chukar hunting could be good in the Basin. Recent surveys showed that there are plenty of birds in Grant and Douglas counties. Biologists saw twice as many chukars as they did last year.

Hunting will be poor in Okanogan County. Only a few birds were spotted there during the aerial survey.

Biologists don’t have much information on quail populations, but they said that quail did better during the nesting season than pheasants and partridges.

The hunting forecast for the Spokane region said that “quail could be the bright spot in upland game bird hunting this year.”

“Broods observed during other surveys are full of late-hatch young,” the forecast says, “indicating that these tenacious birds have renested successfully between wet spells.”

In the Basin, biologists said, quail populations are the same as in years past in some areas, but down 30 to 60 percent in others.

According to the National Weather Service, this year’s average precipitation in the Yakima Valley is the highest in 12 years. As a result, there’s more cover for the birds, making them more difficult to locate.

“It’s my gut feeling that the bird population is not down at all as the surveys indicate and that there will be a similar number of birds available compared to last season,” said Don Larsen, upland bird biologist for the Yakama Indian Nation’s wildlife department.

Graphic: Snake River chukar surveys

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Hunting dates Eastern Washington 1995 hunting dates for Eastern Washington: Ducks: Oct. 14-Jan. 21 Geese: Oct. 14-Jan. 21* Mountain grouse: Sept. 1-Dec. 31 Partridge: Sept. 16-Dec. 31* California quail: Oct. 14-Jan. 7 Pheasant: Oct. 14-Dec. 31 Cottontail rabbit: Sept. 1-March 15 Snowshoe hare: Sept. 1-March 15

North idaho 1995 hunting dates for North Idaho: Morning Doves: Sept. 1-30 Ducks: Oct. 7-Jan. 7 Geese: Sept. 30-Jan. 7 Mountain grouse: Sept. 1-Dec. 31 Partridge: Sept. 16-Dec. 31 California quail: Closed in Panhandle. Sept. 16-Dec. 31 elsewhere Pheasant: Oct. 14-Dec. 17 Cottontail rabbit: Sept. 1-Feb. 28 Snowshoe hare: Sept. 1-March 31 *See exceptions in rules pamphlet.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Hunting dates Eastern Washington 1995 hunting dates for Eastern Washington: Ducks: Oct. 14-Jan. 21 Geese: Oct. 14-Jan. 21* Mountain grouse: Sept. 1-Dec. 31 Partridge: Sept. 16-Dec. 31* California quail: Oct. 14-Jan. 7 Pheasant: Oct. 14-Dec. 31 Cottontail rabbit: Sept. 1-March 15 Snowshoe hare: Sept. 1-March 15

North idaho 1995 hunting dates for North Idaho: Morning Doves: Sept. 1-30 Ducks: Oct. 7-Jan. 7 Geese: Sept. 30-Jan. 7 Mountain grouse: Sept. 1-Dec. 31 Partridge: Sept. 16-Dec. 31 California quail: Closed in Panhandle. Sept. 16-Dec. 31 elsewhere Pheasant: Oct. 14-Dec. 17 Cottontail rabbit: Sept. 1-Feb. 28 Snowshoe hare: Sept. 1-March 31 *See exceptions in rules pamphlet.


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