UPLAND BIRD OPENER -- Jim Matthews Column 10/24/01

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UPLAND BIRD OPENER -- matthews-ONS 24oct01

ESSEX -- Reports from the opening weekend of quail and chukar season, which kicked off this past Saturday, have borne out that this is going to be one of the best hunting seasons since 1998 because of good bird production in desert and coastal areas. Yet an extremely dry summer and fall have led to dry gamebird guzzlers (man-made water catchments for wildlife) throughout the desert regions, which is likely to have a negative impact on bird survival. Many hunters in the East Mojave National Preserve were also upset that traditional water sources, maintained for years by cattle ranchers, have been left dry or removed by the National Park Service this year.

Andy Pauli, a DFG biologist who was in the East Mojave this past weekend checking hunters, said he ran across a lot of annoyed hunters “who found water tanks they’d hunted around for years were dry.” In spite of this, most hunters in the East Mojave reported good success. Pauli said he worked with three wardens checking hunters in the region and they found an average of about five birds per hunter opening weekend, and there were quite a few limits (10 birds) of Gambel’s quail checked.

Pauli does brood counts in the Victorville to Barstow region and out in the Mojave National Preserve each year prior to the opener. In the west Mojave he counted 372 chukar on several springs and guzzlers, and the average brood size was 15.6 birds, or a 7.9 young-to-adult ratio.

In the East Mojave, he tallied 570 Gambel’s quail at three sites with an average brood size of 11.8 birds, or 5.9 young-per-adult. Counting 570 quail at just three locations should tell you something about bird numbers for this year. “It’s still a rebuilding year, but there are a lot of young birds,” said Pauli. In the popular mountain ranges around Red Mountain, usually considered “chukar central” by most Southern California hunters, DFG biologist Rocky Thompson said he tallied the third highest number of chukar since he’s began as unit biologist in this area back in 1993.

“This is our best year in the past three,” said Thompson. “We didn’t have a lot of holdover birds, but our production is way up.” He and his crew counted 702 chukar -- well above the 224 birds counted last year but below his 1993 record of 1,822 -- and the brood size was 13.4 young. That works out to a 6.7 young-to-adult ratio. Last year’s brood size was a mere 1.6. Thompson’s valley and mountain quail counts were also pretty impressive. The average valley quail brood was 9.4, and the mountain quail broods averaged 13.2. Last year he counted no young for either species of quail.

The good production translated into pretty good hunting for many upland bird hunters in these desert regions for opening weekend. Chukar, which are notorious runners often never bagged by even diligent hunters, proved elusive for Palmdale hunter Jim Monroe, but persistence and a lot of boot leather worn off over both days of the weekend paid off with a single chukar bagged each day. Monroe hunted around springs and guzzlers in the Rand and El Paso mountains. In the Apple Valley region, where Pauli counted so many chukar, gonzo chukar hunter Gary Hatfield from Mountain Home Village, worked the Sidewinder and Granite mountains and didn’t see a bird opening day, but on Sunday he saw one good covey of chukar but never got a shot for two days of hard hunting.

Waterfowl hunting guide Ty Nay from Calipatria said the hunting was good in the Imperial County region for Gambel’s quail. “It seems like it was a good hatch in Imperial Valley this year,” said Nay, who hunted five spots with two partners and the trio managed to get 11 birds between them. “It’s sure better than it’s been the last three or four years.” Many hunters reported dry, or nearly dry guzzlers. One hunters said that two guzzlers in the East Mojave near Essex on old Route 66 were completely without water, holding only damp dirt in the bottoms of the tanks. Coveys of Gambels quail which were concentrated around both water sources a month ago when both tanks still had small amounts of water had dispersed away from these water sources, or perhaps perished without adequate water supplies to sustain them during this warm fall.

Pauli said he had reports like this from a number of hunters, and he wasn’t aware of any scientific studies that show quail would disperse and try to find new water or simply stay in an area and die. Pauli did note that where ever there were water sources, the numbers of quail and chukar appeared to be very high this year and he was encouraged that it would be a good upland season.
 


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