Monthly Archives: December 2009

More probable chronic wasting disease cases

Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials today announced six new suspected chronic wasting disease cases in western Kansas deer. More may be found in the coming weeks.

Mike Miller, information chief, said the department is planning on testing tissue taken from about 2,300 deer this fall and winter. Most were killed by hunters. Samples are being tested from all parts of Kansas.

So far about one-third of the tissue taken from those deer have been tested. Miller said the six that tested positive at a K-State lab have been sent to Iowa to be verified by federal authorities.

Chronic wasting disease is 100 percent fatal in deer, elk and moose. The disease has not been documented within humans or livestock.

It was first identified in the 1960s along the Wyoming/Colorado border. Within the past 15 years it’s spread to about a dozen states and two Canadian provinces. Most Rocky Mountain and Great Plains states have the disease. It has been found as far east as New York and West Virginia.

Kansas’ first case in a wild deer was in the extreme northwest corner of the state in 2005. Three more deer tested positive after the 2007 seasons and ten following the 2008 seasons.

Each year the disease has progressed a little more to the south and east. It appears it’s entered Thomas and Graham counties this year.

For more information go to www.kdwp.state.ks.us.

Regulations typo corrected

Spend much time on a keyboard and you’ll end up with an embarrassing typo.

Wildlife and Parks is admitting it is their turn.

Some printed hunting regulations state any unused deer permit from the 2008-09 deer seasons can be used during the special January season for antlerless whitetails.

Obviously the department meant any unused permit from the 2009 hunting seasons can be used during the season that’s designed to lower whitetail deer numbers in areas with high populations.

Unless exempt hunters most also possess a 2010 hunting license to participate in the season that begins Friday.

The mistake has been corrected online and in recently printed regulation booklets

The season runs Jan. 1-10 in units 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 19.

It will remain open through Jan. 17 in units 7, 8, and 15.

For more information go to www.kdwp.state.ks.us.

An afternoon in the Flint Hills

Sometimes the less we plan the better things seem to fall into place.

Sunday’s spur-of-the-moment drive to the Flint Hills provided better action and memories than many  well-planned and highly anticipated adventures.

Hank and I left home a little past noon and spent about an hour checking a deer hunting spot near Harvey County East Lake. Leaving the place I debated if there was time to check a Chase County property I hadn’t seen since summer.

Since my family was out of town and for weeks I’d been curious about the numbers of wild turkeys and prairie chickens using the property we went.

We weren’t 150 yards down the road that bisects the Flint Hills property when a flock of about 70 prairie chickens flushed from nearby cut soybeans. I watched as they flew a mile or more  out over the the prairie.

A few minutes later I spotted a flock of about 100 wild turkeys pecking and scratching in shallow snow on another field. With two permits in my pocket I decided to give the birds a try.

We hiked a wide path that could let us get close to the birds as a high creek bank shielded our approach. Eighty yards out I knew the unseen flock was still there.

Since he was a puppy my eight-year-old Labrador retriever has had a particular excitement for the big birds. Though he dutifully stayed at my side the exaggerated snap in his tail telegraphed when he started hearing and scenting the flock.

When I verbally released the dog he shot forward and turned the narrow farm field into a Keystone Cops scene. Turkeys never seem to know how to react when 85-pounds of excited dog streaks into their midst. For several seconds most of the birds ran around in confusion, packed so tightly together I couldn’t fire for fear of hitting too many birds.

Eventually a young tom split from the flock and I fired. Hank bounded happily to the downed bird and needed every inch of his height and raised head to make the retrieve.

Most of the flock flew west, and scattered in open timber. We headed east towards my pick-up, walking a grassy swale where several birds had flown. Four tried to hold tight in the cover. Hank thrashed and pounced as he worked their scent until he flushed them like super-sized quail. I shot a nice hen.

We walked the edge of another soybean field after stashing the birds in the pick-up. Several whitetails flushed from thick grass near the field. Tracks of turkeys, geese and prairie chickens pocked the snow at  mid-field.

Hank turned on scent and flushed a nice covey of at least 25 quail near a thick swale of grass. Several offered easy shots and most landed in grass not far away. I neither fired or followed. It was getting late in the afternoon and the birds needed time to feed and regroup before a cold night.

I also wanted to make the hour-long drive home during daylight.

Deer seemed to be in about every creek bottom field we passed.

Between Cassoday and Burns I slowed when I noticed a few prairie chickens sitting in the wind-blown limbs of a tree. Binoculars were no sooner to my eyes than a flock of at least 40 ‘chickens flushed from grass beneath the tree and sailed off.

With no cars in sight I stayed parked in the middle of the county road and watched the birds until they disappeared from sight.

I checked my watch. It was still just 4 o’clock.

Snows that giveth and snows that taketh away

I’m a weather junkie 365 days a  year. Several times a day I head online to check the forecast for everything from the next few hours to the next couple of weeks.

Yes, I know anything past about two days is largely a meteorological guess but I still want to know.

But lately I’ve been checking several times an hour. I’ll be like that until the coming winter storm passes.

Weather events like the one coming brings good news and bad news. A few inches of snow can make for great bird hunting as all of the white forces pheasants and quail into thick cover where they’ll hopefully hold well for dogs.

But such weather can bring negatives, too, for outdoors lovers.

Several times while waterfowl hunting yesterday I wondered if it might be my last chance for ducks. The coming cold could lock-up most water. Too much snow can cover up enough food to send even the hardiest of big Canadas and mallards to warmer places.

But such systems bring bigger worries about what impact it can have on assorted wildlife.

Bobwhites have been struggling with issues like declining habitat and successive weather-related poor hatches in some parts of Kansas. A foot or so of snow blown into 10 foot drifts by the predicted high winds certainly wouldn’t help. Areas with good quail numbers could lose most of them in a couple of weeks of thick ice and extreme cold.

But as we watch the progress of the coming storm we also note the predictions for the days after it passes. Will there be enough sun and above freezing temperatures to give the birds a break?

That’d be great, but will the snow last long enough for us to get out and enjoy it?

Time will tell.

But I’ll keep checking with the weather dudes every few minutes until that time comes.

Television shows law-breakers

Several days ago I watched Remington’s Buck Stops Here television show on Versus. Host Mike Hanback and friend Jim Riley were deer hunting in southeast Kansas.

Much of the show was focused on Riley’s hunt for a nice eight-pointer. Much of that time he wasn’t wearing an orange cap.

For decades the Kansas deer hunting regulations have been pretty clear that firearms deer hunters must have a certain amount of orange on their torso and  heads.

The camera clearly shows Riley was breaking the law, though it was probably with no malice at heart.

He’s not the first to be caught on camera. Through the years several big-name show hosts have been shown breaking Kansas laws while on camera.

Often it has to do with hunter orange. I’ve seen some remove an orange hat once in a box blind. Another put a heavier coat on that covered their orange vest.

Several times the camera has shown untagged deer being loaded into a truck or dragged towards that job.

Years ago a show host was filmed using an electronic remote to make his deer decoy move. You can’t use electronics to lure big game animals in Kansas.

I’m not the only person who’s seen such things. Talk of it has come up at Wildlife and Parks Commission meetings. Several times a year I get an e-mail or casual mention when talking to someone.

Kevin Jones, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief, is aware such violations are sometimes shown on TV and videos. He said all are handled differently.

Jones said he thought a few cases have been made with such footage as proof. Sometimes the offender may be contacted and educated on the error or their ways. Often nothing happens at all, at least not that he’s heard about.

He said he and his wardens take all game laws seriously, especially those that involve hunter safety, like the hunter orange requirements. But issuing someone a ticket that lives several states away has its share of problems for the agency and the out-of-state hunter.

Of course not all in-state violators are issued citations. Most wardens I’ve been around do a pretty good job of handling each situation.

I’ve seen wardens hand hunters pens to sign their waterfowl stamps. Others have reminded deer hunters they need to be wearing all of their hunter orange if they are using binoculars to look for deer from their pick-ups.

I’m not sure how many people annually get ticketed for not wearing the required amount of hunter orange while hunting for deer in Kansas.

But I’m sure all are pretty frustrated when they see someone getting away with it on televison.

Citizen scientests take to the field

Don’t be surprised if you see a few more folks wandering around with binoculars on Saturday.

Birders will be out and about in Wichita and the Newton area as part of annual Christmas bird counts.

Between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 many thousands of birders will be doing the same in many parts of the world. Their findings provide a great look at current wild bird populations and ranges.

According to the National Audubon Society this is the 110th year for such counts. Basically birders follow similar routes year after year, noting both species found and strong estimates on individual birds seen.

Such counts helped document the heavy toll West Nile Virus took on some songbirds a few years ago. Locally black-capped chickadees were especially hard hit.

But the counts are about more than just science, trust me. I’ve covered several Christmas counts and some have been under some severe weather conditions.

I’ve yet to meet a participant that wasn’t having a good time.

Nobody said citizen science can’t be fun.

Sunday’s outdoors page in The Eagle will have the story on a birder who has been part of counts for more than 50 years. I’ll also have a round-up of what was found on Saturday’s Wichita count.

Your top 10 outdoor stories of 2009?

OK, I’ll admit it – I need some help.

I’m in the beginnings of writing a column on the top 10 stories on the Kansas outdoors for 2009.

I’d sure appreciate some of your ideas and feedback.

Here’s a partial list of what I’m considering.

Zebra mussels - One of our state’s most unwanted invasive species was found in several new waters this year.

Deer permits – Meeting legislative mandate Wildlife and Parks issued record numbers of deer permits to non-resident hunters. That’s not real popular with general resident hunters.

CRP reductions – Kansas is losing many thousands of acres of Conservation Reserve Program grasses. It’s provided valuable habitat in central and western Kansas for more than 20 years.

Cheney fish populations – All but written-off as a wasted lake because of the white perch infestation a few years ago, Cheney Lake now has some of the best year-classes of young game fish in the state.

Lesser prairie chickens - The feds have upgraded their concerns over the nation’s lesser prairie chicken population. Some groups have asked Wildlife and Parks to put them on the state’s endangered species list. But numbers remain strong across much of their Kansas range.

High gun and ammo sales – Fear of strict gun and ammunition control legislation from the current administration in Washington gets much of the credit for driving firearm and ammo sales to record levels in 2009. That also means record amounts of excise tax money will go towards wildlife management.

Those are a few of my ideas for within the top 10. I’m also kicking around whooping cranes, pheasant and quail populations, the Arkansas River access plan, fishing license sales and changes within state parks.

I’d sure appreciate some other opinions, please. Don’t spend too long thinking about it. The story may run this weekend.

Thanks

Deer hunting for the birds

I failed but we succeeded.

Last summer I agreed to help friend Carolyn Schwab get her first deer during the firearms deer season. It closed yesterday.

We went six times. No shots fired. Not even a deer in the scope. I never would have guessed I couldn’t guide a friend to a shot at a doe or young buck in two or three hunts.

Yet every trip to the ground blind was a success for both of us thanks to birds.

Carolyn’s an avid and accomplished birder. I enjoy learning more about the critters.

To fight possible boredom I poured several kinds of bird seed near the pop-up blind. That’s not the last time I’ll do that.

Let me tell you, pour a few gallons of sunflower seeds on the ground and it’s not long before it’s covered in cardinals, blue jays and Harris sparrows.

Boredom never came thanks to the parade of birds. My favorites where the sparrows. It was my first for-sure sightings of white-capped and white-throated sparrows. I always like looking at Harris sparrows. They’re gorgeous. Juncos are too.

We sat through some brutal cold. Temperatures were below 20 degrees several times. Carolyn noted the only time she felt cold was when she wasn’t looking at birds.

During the sits she added two new species – Brewer’s blackbird and long-eared owl – to the list of what she’s documented on the property. That brings her list to 199 species. I was hoping for another. A white-tailed deer would have been nice, too.

I don’t know what went wrong. The sign was there and fresh, with tracks in the snow within 15 feet of the blind. Trail cam pics showed a particular nice buck and a young doe in the area on a daily basis right up to when the season opened.

We had one doe in range a minute or two before legal shooting light. Another seemed like a sure thing until it figured something was wrong and just trotted off.

I’m guessing the deer had us patterned and came and went after dark.

We’ll probably try it again during the January doe season. Hopefully by then the hunting will be good.

I’m sure the birding will be excellent.

Check lane nabs poachers

Sunday afternoon a cooperative effort of the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks teamed together to clean-up those using the state’s roads and hunting fields.

Scott Hanzlicek, Wildlife and Parks game warden in-charge of their portion of the operation, said eight Highway Patrol troopers and 10 Wildlife and Parks law enforcement officials worked a traffic stop west of Harper on Highway 160.

“KHP had a license-check lane up on the road,” Hanzliceck said. “If they observed somebody who had been hunting they directed them to our lane. We checked 30-plus vehicles and over 50 hunters.”

The check lanes were scheduled to run from 1-5 p.m. but were closed at about 3:30 p.m. because of weather concerns.

Hanzlicek said several people were issued citations for hunting without a license. Two individuals were cited  for more serious matters.

Among a multitude of charges was wanton waste, misrepresentation to get a resident license and trespass.

One of the hunters was caught just cutting the head from a buck and leaving the rest of the deer in the field where he didn’t have permission to hunt.

Hanzlicek said a deer already taken to a taxidermist in Oklahoma will be seized.

He stressed that the majority of hunters checked were well within the laws.

“That’s two or three out of 50 or more. The rest did pretty well,” he said. “It’s always a few that are really screwing things up.”

Bye-bye whoopers, hello eagles

The Quivira  National Wildlife Refuge is again open to hunting. That means the last small flock of whooping cranes in the area migrated south.

Whoopers were around for about four weeks and in some amazing numbers. Many wildlife watchers got their first look at the endangered species. Many avid birders said they’d never seen more.

It’ll be a year others are compared to when viewing the big white birds for decades to come.

The same brutal cold that pushed the whoopers southward has brought nice numbers of bald eagles to the Arkansas Rivers in and around Wichita.  Eagles generally come to town when temperatures get cold enough to freeze their fishing areas at surrounding lakes. They can still find fish and waterfowl to eat along flowing sections of the river that are free of ice.

I got several phone calls and e-mails of eagles seen within the last few days at the usual places. That includes downtown and around most dams and major bridges over the Arkansas.

The birds will probably stay in the area until temperatures warm enough to open area lakes and reservoirs.

If you go looking for eagles  remember to drive safely. Accidents have happened and have been barely avoided by someone slamming on their brakes when they see an eagle in a tree or soaring over the river.

Oh, last summer I wrote a column on Ol’ Red, my 1995 Ford pick-up that has 270,000 miles and more rust than a junkyard.

I’m proud to say Ol’ Red started within five seconds on these recent cold mornings.

If only I was aging so gracefully.