Upland bird hunters have reason for hope this year.
Coming off one of the worst pheasant, quail and partridge years in memory, production appears to be up from Southern Idaho northward into Eastern Washington.
Chukar counts are up along the Snake River and pheasant surveys are showing high numbers of chicks per brood in Whitman County.
But the jury is still out, said Joe McCanna, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who’s been coordinating game bird surveys.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “But it’s been a strange year. We saw pretty good numbers of hens during spring crowing counts, and I’ve seen bigger-than-average broods – seven to eight chicks per hen.
“Now that the harvest is over I should be seeing more birds along the roads, but I’m not. It’s eerie. That could mean something has happened to the birds, or it could mean the hens are having late hatches and are sticking more to the cover.”
Last week, McCanna saw broods with 10-week old chicks and broods with chicks 4-6 weeks old.
Pheasants in Garfield and Columbia counties appear to be down this year while numbers in Franklin and Benton counties appear to be up, he said.
Quail flocks are down in far-eastern Washington this year, but they appear to be very good in Grant, Okanogan and Yakima counties.
The brightest spot is an apparent upswing in Hungarian partridge numbers.
“I’ve seen broods of 10 birds or more and that’s excellent,” McCanna said.
The region’s chukar population appears to be on the rebound, according to recently conducted surveys by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Harsh winters, drought, invasive weeds and untimely spring storms have combined to cause the species’ population to plummet in recent years.
The birds live in the dry canyonlands and breaks including those found southwest Idaho north through Hells Canyon and the Snake River breaks of southeastern Washington.
Idaho wildlife managers last year predicted it could take years for the chukar population to recover.
However, wildlife biologist Jake Powell says hunters should be encouraged by agency aerial surveys that counted nearly 900 of the birds in the highlands along Brownlee Reservoir in central Idaho last month.
Powell says about 73 chukars per square mile were found at the survey area, which is almost double the number counted last year and the largest amount recorded since 2005.
No chukar surveys were conducted in the Clearwater region out of Lewiston this year, and Washington no longer conducts aerial chukar surveys.