Monthly Archives: April 2013

Possible changes to Quivira’s management plans to be discussed

Discussion and public comments on long-term habitat and wildlife management plans at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge are planned for Tuesday evening at the Great Plains Nature Center.

Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said topics will include proposed tree control plans, changes in public use of wetlands when whooping cranes are present and allowing deer and turkey hunting for the first time at the refuge.

Oldham said the refuge is holding the 5 to 7 p.m. meeting as part of its 15-year conservation plan. The process began about four years ago and has resulted in a 300-plus-page plan for how the refuge should proceed in the future.

“Everything we could think about doing has been put in there,” Oldham said of the detailed plan. “We need to justify everything we do.”

Oldham stressed that even though the plan shows preferred options, plan details can still change.

He said he knows tree removal plans could draw a lot of public interest. For several years, refuge management has been working to restore the area to its native prairie state.

Many visitors have expressed frustration that thousands of trees and bushes have been removed from the area to make room for prairie grasses.

Oldham said the conservation plan will probably see continued tree control but maybe not at current levels.

A long history of closing the entire 20,000-plus-acre refuge to all hunting when endangered whooping cranes are present could end. A current proposal would close areas where the birds are present to all hunting, while leaving other areas open to hunting.

Another possible change could be the opening of areas previously closed to hunting, making up for wide areas closed when whooping cranes are present.

Oldham said any area known to hold a whooping crane would probably be shut down immediately, according to the preferred plan.

The plan is similar to one at the state-owned Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, where only units holding whooping cranes are closed to hunting.

Oldham said the refuge staff would also like the chance to hold limited hunts for deer and turkeys in the area. He said such hunts would probably take more planning and public comment before implementation.

“As for now, we just want to be on the table to allow deer hunting,” said Oldham, noting that population control could eventually help reduce the spread of disease. “Right now we don’t even have any details; those would have to be worked out down the road.”

Such considerations could include refuge deer and turkey population densities, public safety and having a minimal impact on wildlife watching within the refuge. He predicted any limited deer hunting could be several seasons away.

Oldham said other parts of the long-term plan could be implemented later this year, pending federal approval.

Other topics within the long-term plan, and possibly up for discussion on Tuesday, include water quality and quantity for the refuge’s wetlands, prohibiting the collection of shed deer antlers and ways to increase public use and wildlife compatibility.

A similar public meeting will be held Wednesday at the Front Door Community Center in Great Bend.

Comments can also be submitted at www.fws.gov/refuge/quivira.

 

Casts and Blasts from the Governor’s Turkey Hunt

Gov. Sam Brownback looks at one of two toms he shot, while only having one permit. Danny Armstrong is giving directions to the area to a game warden, after Brownback self reported the unintentional problem.

A long weekend that usually holds some 20 hour days, and an annual chance to see some good friends, held a bit more excitement this year. No doubt Gov. Sam Brownback’s unintentionally shooting two turkeys while having only one permit, then intentionally  self reporting the inciden,t will be one of  the most memorable events of the 27th Governor’s Turkey Hunt in El Dorado.

All political views aside, it’s hard for anyone to not admire the fact that Brownback took responsibility for his actions even though he was basically following the directions of guide Danny Armstrong, who mistook one turkey for another. He made no excuses, and asked for no special treatment.

The first shot wasn’t ideal, as Brownback was told to shoot a mature tom as it feeding along in front of the blind with its head down. Normally birds are standing, with their head and neck stretched up when the shots are taken. A brief mechanical problem prevented a quick follow-up shot afte the bird rolled, regained its feet and trotted off at an angle that made it tough for the left-handed shooting Brownback to shoot again.

Armstrong hadn’t seen the bird turn to the west and thought it was headed to a meadow to the south, where he had Brownback take a shot at a bird walking away from the hunting blind. That three or four jakes were strutting around that dead bird were an early indication a different bird had been shot.

Armstrong went looking for the original bird after he and Brownback had gone to the dead jake. He found the tom about 30 yards from where it was shot, tangled in a woven wire fence.

The tom turkey shot seconds later by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback’s first question was if it was legal to go purchase a second permit for the bird. Armstrong and I told him permits aren’t valid until the next day. It also would have been illegal for Armstrong or me to tag the bird since we hadn’t shot it.

Brownback then said he’d just have to pay the fine for a ticket. He used his cell phone to call Seth Turner, the state park manager at El Dorado State Park. Turner’s job also qualifies him to enforce wildlife law violations, though he tried repeatedly to contact other agency law enforcement officials.

At the scene of the hunt, Brownback volunteered that it would reflect badly on everyone if he wasn’t issued a citation.

As Turner said at the time, and Kevin Jones, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief later confirmed, I know of at least four instances when such unintentional cases of game being shot over the bag limit were not issued tickets by game wardens.

Keeping a good sense of humor, Brownback said, “I’m laying this off on Robin (Jennison). He’s always trying to get more money out of me for Wildlife and Parks. He’s getting some, and it’s my money.” Jennison is Wildlife and Parks secretary.

Rather than hold the story for Sunday’s outdoors page, I decided it was important to get the facts public as soon as possible rather than let the rumor mill spin things in inaccurate directions.

News spread fast. By 4 a.m. the next morning one hunter reported seeing it on the bottom of the screen on the Weather Channel. About an hour later another saw it in a similar way on CNN.

By 9:04 a.m. that Saturday morning I got a call that I’d “upset a bunch of game wardens” because I referred to Turner as a game warden as well as a state park manager. Technically, Turner is also a park ranger, meaning he can enforce state park regulations and wildlife regulations.

Several years ago The Eagle decided to refer to those who are enforcing wildlife laws and regulations as game wardens so the public would instantly recognize their duties.

 

 

Morels are up…let the madness begin

A handful of happiness – a ripe morel. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PEARCE

My buddy Lonny must have sent me a half-dozen texts Sunday afternoon. Some had pics attached, while others did not.

For Lonny and thousands like him it was one of the best days of the year…morel mushrooms had begun appearing on his favored ‘shrooming lands.

As usual, his first finds were generally small and isolated to only a few of the many spots he’ll be patrolling regularly for a few weeks.

Oh, the place of his finds was south of Wichita, in the Arkansas River bottomlands.

Of course I could be more specific. Yes, I can drive right to the exact place. But I won’t.

Being taken to a someone’s best morel spot is somewhat of an honor, and shows you have his or her trust. It doesn’t even need to be implied that you’re to never return unless officially invited. To divulge even a general set of directions to the hallowed place would be akin to telling a complete stranger the friend’s work hours, the code to the security system at their house, and where in the home to find the guns and the heirloom diamonds and gold. Actually, it may be even worse.

People will do some things to find great-tasting morels they won’t do in other aspects of their life. We’ve had illegal ‘shroomers trespassing on our farm that would never illegally cross the fence to hunt or fish.

They’ll also stay up much into the night trying to figure out where this year’s morel motherlode could be. They’ll exhaust every rural legend they’ve ever heard about what makes ideal morel conditions, and how they can improve the ‘shrooming on their favored lands.

Me? I’m not that addicted, but walking from through the woods after Lonny’s texts with a nice gobbler over my shoulder, my eyes were locked on the ground. You just never know…,

YOU CAN CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MORELS.

 

Calling turkeys with a twist of the Arctic

For the first hundred yards I felt my eyes watering. For the second hundred yards I felt those tears turning to solid ice. So it goes when the temperature is in the low teens, and the wind gusts are in the high 20s and 30s, blowing  across scores of miles of frozen, wide-open prairie.

 

 

I’d traveled to Gove County to tag along with some researchers studying lesser prairie chickens. A side benefit was to spend some time with my good friend Stacy Hoeme, pursuing wild turkeys Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. We figured a few hours was all we’d need, since Stacy had seen about 60 birds in the limited habitat of trees and an alfalfa field. The plan was to do it with our bows.

In the conservation of time, let’s just say about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The ranch was down to just one or two lone toms by Tuesday afternoon. It’s my guess the coming cold had sent them back to their wintering spot by a feedlot several miles away, where the eating would be easy.

So, amid Tuesday afternoon’s brutal winds, that were sometimes pushing sleet like shot pellets from a fired shotgun, we put up a blind where we’d seen the one bird. It was also a place where Stacy said turkeys often crossed between two clumps of trees.

Because of a lack of birds, and abundance of cold and howling winds, we left our bows behind when we headed across the prairie with shotguns on Wednesday’s opening morning of any-weapon spring turkey season. Optimism wasn’t high. Heading out that morning I realized they were probably the toughest conditions I’d met in 34 spring turkey seasons, in which I’d called birds to gun in heavy snows, downpours, 90-plus degree heat, below freezing temps and gusting winds.

When we reached the river bottom I placed a hen and a jake decoy and hurried into the relative shelter of the blind . After waiting a few minutes I gave a few yelps on a slate call, followed by a few sharp cuts. Bingo! Gobbles from multiple birds came from not far away. Peaking out of the blind I saw one tom roosted almost straight over the decoys, riding a limb that was bucking in the wind like a rodeo bull.

A few minutes later I called again, and again the birds gobbled. I told Stacy our odds weren’t too good for a short hunt, as the birds  would probably move away since  they’d roosted so close to the blind. At best, I figured they’d move away from the area, and that maybe some excited calling an hour or two later might lure them back. But the hunt would be over within a few minutes.

I have no idea how they didn’t see us coming across the prairie and spook as we got to the blind, unless their eyes were blurred by water and ice, too, but they didn’t.

It wasn’t long until we had four toms marching our way, their nearly horizontal beards showing the high wind velocity.

Coming around the trees the sight of the decoys put the three forward birds into the best strut they could muster. The wind pushed their fans nearly flat,  and they appeared to be leaning shoulders into  the wind, like someone trying to force their way through a tight door.

Stacy shot one bird and I took another as it tried to figure out why his buddy was on the ground.

The toms were two-year-olds, with classic 8 1/2 to 9-inch beards, 3/4-inch spurs and probably weighed 17-18 pounds.

I think it’s the first time I’d called strutting turkeys to guns with a below zero windchill.

It was fun, and a pretty good accomplishment, but I’ll take a calm, 50 degree morning any time.

 

A New Breed of Prairie Chicken…

GOVE COUNTY – Tuesday morning had all the makings of a complete disappointment.

Researcher Erica Skorlinski holds a probable hybrid lesser/greater prairie chicken, just fitted with identifying leg bands.

The temperature was 42 degrees when we left Scott City at 5:30 a.m. and dropping into the 20s, with wind gusts more than 40 m.p.h. by the time we met Reid Plumb and Erica Skorlinski along a desolate gravel road half-way between the Middle of Nowhere and We’d Better Pack a Lunch and Bring Another Spare.

Plumb and Skorlinski are part of several teams of researchers spread across three parts of Kansas, mainly studying about everything possible about lesser prairie chickens. The rolling Smoky Hills the K-State based researchers are monitoring are known to be THE best lesser prairie chicken range in the world. Plumb said birds in that region are either holding their own in numbers or still increasing.  Such generally isn’t the case for the species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is carefully considering for their endangered or threatened species list.

Plumb and others have had no difficulties finding healthy leks in the region. He said another biologist figures Gove County has more lessers than Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas combined. New Mexico is the only other state, besides Kansas, with the grassland grouse.

Still, my hosts weren’t optimistic when they set their wire cage traps in the dark long before daylight.

One reason Plumb had picked Tuesday’s two leks was because I’d expressed a curiosity about birds that are hybrid mixture of lesser and greater prairie chickens. With the wind and cold rain, Plumb thought it would be good to just see some birds. Having even one walk into a trap was almost an impossible desire amid the conditions.

But shortly after the dull grayness known as “daylight,” Plumb spotted a bird in a wire box on one lek. Plumb and Skorlinski ran into the brutal wind to get to the bird, wanting to get to it before it injured itself against the sides of the trap or caught hypothermia from the cold and wet.

Jogging up late behind them, I heard Plumb’s words of, “It’s a hybrid,” come through the wind. It was the only bird in a trap, and one of no more than two hybrid males he’d seen displaying amid a dozen or so lesser males at the lekthe past few days.

The air sack of a male hybrid prairie chicken carries the colors of both lesser and greater birds.

Back inside the truck, where the bird was weighed, measured in several places and had blood and feathers taken for testing, Plumb showed me what others had already said – hybrids carry characteristics of both lesser and greater birds. The male bird weighed about 1,000 grams, certainly between the averages of about 1,150 grams for greaters and about 920 grams for lessers. The coloring and the bird’s barring was a light brown, a shade between the two species.

The coolest part to me, was when Plumb lifted the long pinnae feathers and showed a deflated air sack that was mottled with yellow and reddish-orange, the colors of greaters and lessers, respectably. Plumb said inflated the color mixture is very obvious. The sound the birds make while displaying, which was inaudible over the gusty winds, is also said to be a neat mixture, too.

After the bird was fitted with some identifying leg bands, Skorlinski  released it and we watched it fly away. Interestingly at the other lesser prairie chicken lek, the researchers also found just one male in a trap. It appeared to be  pure greater prairie chicken.

Plumb said other researchers are trying to put tracking devices on some hybrid prairie chicken females, to learn more about their actions and see if they’re fertile and will raise young.

Chances are I’ll head to that remote part of Kansas again this summer. Seeing one of the few hybrids was a birding highlight. The chance, though slight, of seeing a hen with a brood of hybrid chicks would be even better…but I do hope it’s much warmer upon that return.

Researchers Erica Skorlinsk, left, and Reid Plumb run to remove a prairie chicken from a trap in Gove County Tuesday morning.

 

 

Record blue catfish from Milford, from a familiar family

Stephanie Stanley, left, with the 82.05 pound blue catfish she caught Saturday at Milford Reservoir. It’s the largest of its species ever caught from a lake in Kansas. Her husband Robert Stanley, right, caught the state record blue catfish of 102.8 pounds from the Missouri River last August. COURTESY PHOTO

Saturday Stephanie Stanley became the envy of anglers all across Kansas when she reeled in a 82.05 pound blue catfish at Milford Reservoir. That’s the largest of its kind officially weighed from the lake near Junction City. It’s also believed to be the largest blue catfish ever caught from any lake in Kansas.

Fish in the 40 to 50 pound range have become somewhat common at Milford, a lake that features a variety of good food sources. Most serious catfish anglers practice catch-and-release on blue catfish over about 10 pounds, too.

Stanley may have caught the biggest from the lake, but she has a long way to go to top her husband’s best. Robert Stanley holds the current state record for blue catfish at 102.8 pounds, caught from the Missouri River on August 11 of last year.

The Stanleys were fishing a Catfish Chasers fishing tournament when Stephanie Stanley caught her lake record fish on shad. They won the tournament with five fish that totalled 155.38 pounds.

The Stanleys released all of their fish on Saturday, including the new lake record, as per Catfish Chasers rules.

A Woman and her Dog…and their growing pile of antlers

Amber Stimatze and Winnie with some of the antlers they found Tuesday afternoon.

Amber Stimatze is a self-described “rodeo brat” from St. John, who has always enjoyed working with animals.

It’s hard, though, to call what she’s doing with Winnie, a young Labrador retriever, “work.”

Whenever they get the chance, the pair are out walking the central Kansas countryside looking for antlers that have fallen from whitetail or mule deer bucks earlier this year. With keen, experienced eyes and binoculars, Stimatze is pretty skilled at finding them. Winnie is the real pro, though, because she uses her sight, scenting ability and some unique training to help her find and fetch antlers.

Winnie comes from Roger Sigler’s Antler Ridge Antler Dogs kennel in western Missouri. An accomplished animal trainer for several decades, Sigler and his family have nearly perfected the ability to produce pups with the natural ability to search for antlers. Their unique training techniques helps those pups reach their antler finding potential.

Winnie, a specially-trained antler dog, fetches a shed mule deer antler she found Tuesday in Edwards County.

Sigler said he’s placed antler dogs in about 40 states, and that their dogs are continually improving because of a selective breeding program.

Tuesday afternoon Winnie and Stimatze teamed up to find 17 antlers in a few hours.

You’ll be able to read a lot more about their hunt, and what it takes to make a good antler dog, on the Outdoors page of Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, or at www.kansas.com/outdoors.

Ark River Coalition Float Saturday, on the Kansas River System

Talk about making the right decision! A few weeks ago the Arkansas River Coalition postponed a planned float on the Kansas River System near Junction City because of cold and snow. Their rescheduled date of April 6, this Saturday, when the temperatures are supposed to be in the 60s, sounds much, much better.

Below is a copied press release from the Ark River Coalition.

If you’ve never been on an Ark River Coalition event, it’s your loss. While the group of volunteers dedicated to helping protect their favorite river by sharing it with as much as the public as possible can’t control things like stream levels and the weather, their generosity and dedication are as good as any conservation group in Kansas.

Please note they’ll furnish equipment for those in need, with proper notice.

FLOAT COORDINATOR Wally Seibel.  Contact-  email  wallyseibel@aol.com or home 316-684-0730.

Cell contact on 4/6/13 at launch site – Vince Marshall at 316-680-9669

MEETING TIME:   Meet at the put in at 9:00 am and begin shuttle soon thereafter.

MEETING PLACE & FLOAT PLAN:
1.  On Saturday, April 6, drive to Junction City (about 112 miles, 2 hours drive).
2.  Meet at the Grant Ave. (becomes Custer Rd.) Republican River bridge access site.
3.  Run a shuttle to/from the Ogden river access site (exit on K-18 and Ogden interchange).
4.  Return to Junction City and launch float.
5.  Enjoy a float down the Kansas River (river terrain & water flow similar to that of the Arkansas River….in a good year that is!)
6.  Lunch on a sandbar along the float route.
7.  Stop at the Ogden access point by mid-afternoon….day paddlers finish and head for home.
8.  Overnight campers shuttle vehicles, and continue the float to a camping location on a sandbar on the Kansas River below Ogden.
9.  On Sunday, April 7, paddlers finish the float to the Manhattan access located beneath the south end of the K-177 bridge.

REQUIRED:  A signed waiver of liability is required of each participating paddler.  All participants must
wear a PFD (life jacket) while on the water; no exceptions.

REQUIRED IN COLD WEATHER (water and the air temperature both below 60 deg. F.):  Unless you are an experienced paddler equipped with ‘high tech’ gear we will want to verify that the listed requirements >are met.  Cold weather paddling presents special challenges and dangers. In case of a spill, all soaked, wet clothing must be removed very quickly and be replaced with dry to prevent hypothermia. We will be prepared to quickly make a warming fire where possible and carry towels, sleeping bags and warming blankets.

1.  Do not wear garments like jeans and sweatshirts made of cotton, they are heavy and very cold when wet and take forever to dry.  Wear garments of man made fabrics or wool; wool retains it’s insulating properties even when damp or wet.
2.  Wear boots that will keep your feet dry in water up to 12 inch depth.
3. Bring a complete change of clothes secured in a dry bag. If you don’t have a dry bag, a trash compactor bag with the opening twisted, turned back on itself and rubber banded makes an excellent substitute.
4. Layer your clothing, the amount of clothing for a cold morning needs to be adjusted when the sun rises in the sky and you are paddling hard.
PROHIBITED:  Consumption of alcoholic beverages is strictly not allowed while floating or during rest lunch stops.

MEDICAL:  Participants should be in good health and good physical condition.  It takes extra time and expense, which a participant needing assistance will be responsible for, to receive medical attention while on the river.

NEED A KAYAK?  We have loaner kayaks, paddles and PFDs available.  If you need a kayak please let Wally at wallyseibel@aol.com or 316-684-0730 as soon as possible.

COST There is no cost for joining our floats which are made possible by voluntary, tax deductible, donations from friends, supporters and participants like you-$15 donation suggested when using ARC supplied equipment. Please make donation checks payable to The Arkansas River Coalition, Inc.