Wednesday, November 18, 2015

DU Removes All Trace of Don Thomas...

Ignoring the black eye DU has given itself over the heinous firing of Don Thomas for bruising the fragile ego of billionaire supporter James Kennedy--poor precious pup. Now they go and completely remove all trace of Don Thomas, as if he never existed, despite that he was a valued, regular and popular contributor to DU Magazine since the late 1990s. Yep, try and find even one of his many articles in their archives and...Well, there are none...Really. As one scribe put it, un-personed in the best Orwellian fashion.

Since firing Don, instead of the story being confined to the relatively few Bozeangelites who pick up the free rag, Outside Bozeman, the story has gone viral...all over the internet and picked up by several national news agencies including AP and CNN...

Sort a leaves ya speechless, their stupidity, eh?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

RE: DU's Firing of Don Thomas

Sad, True but No Surprise, here is DU's response to those who have dared expressed outrage...

E. Donnall Thomas was a freelance contributor to Ducks Unlimited magazine. He was not a DU employee. He wrote the “Closing Time” column, which appeared on the back page of every issue. Mr. Thomas had been writing this column for DU since 2001.

In the Fall 2015 issue of Outside Bozeman, Mr. Thomas wrote an article entitled: “A Rift Runs Through It; Fighting For Access to the Ruby River.” The article dealt with ongoing legal challenges related to public access on a portion of Montana’s Ruby River that runs through a longstanding DU volunteer leader’s property in Montana. DU recognizes there are many views on this issue, but our mission is waterfowl and wetlands conservation. As a result, DU has no position on the stream access issue in Montana. 

In DU’s opinion, the article published by Mr. Thomas in Outside Bozeman publicly and very personally attacked a DU volunteer leader. We felt that the article demonstrated a lack of fairness in vilifying a member of the DU family without allowing that person the opportunity to provide his perspective.

As a result, DU decided to discontinue its relationship with Mr. Thomas. We would be similarly concerned if Mr. Thomas had written comparable statements about any DU volunteer leader. DU honors freedom of speech, but also honors our volunteers. 

Mr. Thomas has the right to express his opinions in any way he sees fit. DU has the right to choose who contributes to its publications

 Matt Coffey, Senior Communications Specialist, Ducks Unlimited , (901) 758-3764 , (843) 263-7445, mcoffey@ducks.org 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The following is an article, written by conservation hunter/angler and author, Don Thomas. Don was fired for basically writing about a public access issue here in Montana, that offended the billionaire involved. The billionaire pulled strings at a conservation organization, whose magazine Don wrote for and got him fired. Not only is this an injustice, but this is a threat to conservation and is not isolated to just this organization or this writer, there have been others here in Montana that have been affected by political string pulling. This story, and its implications for conservation, needed to be shared.

Ducks, Politics, and Money by Don Thomas

As many of you know, I have been a regular contributor to Ducks Unlimited magazine for nearly twenty years, serving as their Field Editor and writing the back page column in every issue. Not any more.

In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, A Rift Runs Through It, about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state's stream access law. (I will make a copy of that text available to anyone on request.) To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.
James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox's displeasure with the article.

Several points deserve emphasis. The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters' organization. By terminating me for no reason related to my work for the magazine and the organization, DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.

As an outdoorsman and conservationist who supports the North American Model and the Public Trust Doctrine, I find DU's action reprehensible. As a journalist, I find it chilling. Wildlife advocates today face ever increasing pressures to abandon these principles in favor of the commercialization of our public resources, largely from wealthy individuals like James Cox Kennedy. If every journalist reporting on these issues faces this kind of vindictive retribution, the future of wildlife and wildlife habitat-not to mention the hunters and anglers of ordinary means who form the backbone of groups like DU-is bleak indeed.

This issue is not about me or my professional relationship with Ducks Unlimited magazine. It is about integrity and the future of wildlife in America. If you share my concerns-especially if you are a DU member-I encourage you to contact the organization (www.ducks.org attn: Dale Hall), express your opinion, and take whatever further action you might consider appropriate.

Don Thomas
Lewistown, MT

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ferruginous Hawk and Four Chicks Near Dillon, Montana

Ferruginous hawk (hen) stands guard over her four eyasses (chicks) at what used to be (I think) a red-tailed hawk nest north of Dillon. We haven't visited the nest in spring for several years so how long since the ferruginous take-over is more than I know. From all outward appearances all four chicks are healthy looking, doing well. Usually with this many nestlings one or two fall behind the more aggressive and are kicked out...Not so this time around, at least so far.

Not many ferruginous hawks nest this far west so hopefully all four will make it, perhaps add to the local gene pool and provide more such photo ops in the future. There is an abundance (over abundance might be more to the point) of ground squirrels within sight of the nest so lack of prey should not be an issue...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Birding Trails Montana Award...

 Birding Trails Montana (the one at the top right) was awarded 2nd Place in the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association's Excellence In Craft Contest held recently at our Annual Conference in Richland, WA (Tri-Cities). You can order it from Amazon Books or from Wilderness Adventures Press, Belgrade MT...I just signed a bunch there yesterday so for those of you looking for a signed copy be sure to ask...FYI, the signed copies will go out the door fast so best not dally...

Friday, May 15, 2015

Montana Birds: Long-billed Curlew

North America's largest shorebird, the Long-billed Curlew breeds in the grasslands of the Great Plains and Great Basin; they winter on the Texas coast, south to interior Mexico, where you can find them in wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and occasionally beaches.
Both male and female incubate the eggs. and both are aggressive in defense of nests and young. The female typically abandons the brood two to three weeks after hatching and leaves brood care to her mate. Despite the obvious faux pas in domestic relations the pair often mate again next year.

Insects, aquatic crustaceans and invertebrates dominate the diet but the long, curved bill allows allows foraging for deep-burrowing earthworms, shrimp and crabs. The also eat grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally small animals.

The female’s bill is longer than the male's, and a different shape—flatter on top with a more pronounced curve at the tip. The juvenile's bill is distinctly shorter during its first few months, but before the first year ends may equal the male's length.

Curlews appear to be declining on the Great Plains, but  numbers are slightly up in some western areas—the Columbia Plateau and Rocky Mountains. Much more numerous in the 19th century, but numbers fell in response to over-hunting and conversion of grassland breeding habitat to agriculture and development.  Habitat loss and projected effects of climate change will likely precipitate continued population declines.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Montana Birds: Sandhill Crane

Sandhills mate for life; oldest sandhill on record lived at least 36 years, 7 mos...ChucknGaleRobbins photo

Sandhill cranes are big—4 feet tall, with wing spans approaching 6 feet—and imposing what with their long legs and neck, rapier-like bill and those piercing eyes—powerful enough to scrutinize the slightest suspect movement at unbelievable distances.

Their spectacular mating dance—bowing, leaping, hopping, skipping and pirouetting—all the while yodeling that loud unmistakable rolling rattle which can be heard miles away—is well, inimitable, and among the most remarkable in all nature.  One nature writer compares it to the sound of “fingernails drawn along the teeth of several combs,” undulating up and down and amplified by the birds’ exceptionally long windpipe.
Omnivorous, cranes have been know to dine on berries, seeds, snakes, amphibians, mice, voles, and just about everything else out there.

The nest is a simple affair, a shallow depression lined with dry grass and weeds, maybe a few feathers. Typically the female lays 1-3 spotted, grayish brown eggs; both parents incubate the eggs which hatch in about 30 days. It is not uncommon for just one egg to hatch. Sandhill chicks, “colts” can run and swim just a few hours after leaving the nest.

Fossil records indicate the sandhill has been around for millions years. Long-lived, sandhills mate for life. The oldest sandhill on record was at least 36 years, 7 months old. Originally banded in Wyoming in 1973, it was found dead in New Mexico in 2010.

...Many sandhills which nest in southwest Montana overwinter here in Whitewater Draw, in southeast Arizona's Sulphur Springs Valley between Wilcox and Douglas. This January day a couple years ago biologists estimated 25,000 sandhills were using the Draw... 

Recent surveys put the Rocky Mountain population at about 20,000 cranes. In Montana about 500 hunting permits are issued annually. Sandhills, which nest in southwest Montana, winter in the Sulphur Springs Valley in southeast Arizona between Wilcox and Douglas or across the border in New Mexico at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

In western Montana, one of the top spots for viewing cranes up close is the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Beaverhead County, 50 miles west of Yellowstone National Park.  Look for cranes along creeks, wetlands, and open grassy areas.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Montana Birds: Cinnamon Teal

According to the Montana Field Guide, Cinnamon Teal are small, dabbling ducks. Both sexes have bright blue upper-wing coverts; wings lined white. Male in breeding plumage has bright rusty plumage on head, neck, and underparts; female mostly brown on upper-parts with dark streaks on underparts. Males in basic plumage are very similar to females.

Cinnamons show up in Montana around April 20 after wintering in southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, south thru Central America and northern fringes South America; peak migration is about May 15.

Preferred habitat is wetlands including large marsh systems, natural basins, reservoirs, sluggish streams, ditches, and stock ponds.

Omnivorous, the diet consists of seeds and emergent aquatic vegetation, aquatic and semi-terrestrial insects, snails, and zooplankton.

Single brooded, with 7 to 12 eggs per brood. Incubation period 21 to 25 days. Young are able to fly 49 days after hatch.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Dawn in Sage Grouse Country...

Picture this: As dawn rises, the sharp scent of sage mingles with the strange popping sounds of a gang of strutting sage grouse cocks. Inflating and deflating the two yellow chest sacs the cocks pirouette about the lek hoping to impress the hens lurking in the sage nearby. That only one or two dominant cocks ever get the chance to actually mate seems lost in the unfolding drama.

Starting usually sometime in March, lek activity peaks in mid April but goes on sometimes into early May. I have seen individual cocks strutting much later doubtless more just blowing off steam than any real idea of attracting a mate.

Unlike other gallinaceous birds--other grouse species, turkey, chickens and such--hens only mate once. Egg laying is delayed until later in mid May. Thirty days later chicks hatch. Precocious the brood leaves the nest right after hatching and, unlike other upland bird species, come the September hunting season very rarely do we find birds unable to fly well enough to keep up to mama.

Sage grouse and sagebrush are inseparable; take away sage, big unbroken tracts of sagebrush and grass and Poof! the big grouse are gone. Fragmentation is the biggest reason sage grouse populations are generally in decline. Lacking a grinding gizzard the diet is simple and straight-forward, sagebrush leaves, buds and berries (100% in winter), leafy greens and, especially early on the chicks gobble insects--ants are big--to get the protein fix necessary to kick start their growth hormones. Dissecting dozens of crops over the past 20 or so seasons I have yet to find more than one or two insects. And while I'm sure sage is sampled anytime until after mid-October most of the crops are stuffed with leafy greens.

As fall deepens toward early winter families and bachelor males come together in loosely scattered flocks on wintering grounds whose numbers are often mind-boggling. During winter workouts it is not uncommon for my dogs to point several scattered bunches of 25, 50 or more in a couple hour loop.  

To watch a short video of strutting cocks visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7X9UIdKoF8

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Montana Senator Steve Daines Votes to Fund Sell-Off of Public Lands...

“ Hello! Montana hunters, fishermen, trappers, campers, hikers, orvers, and all the rest  who recreate our public lands, tis high time to wake up. Do you realize Montana Senator Daines and his self-serving, land-grabbing, Washington cronies recently approved a measure by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to “support  and fund state efforts to take possession of federal public lands”—BLM and USFWS lands. Our lands; public lands most of us hunt and fish and recreate.  The vote—51 for; 49 against—as you might suspect the split was  51 Republicans for—45 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 1-Independent, against.

Obviously, had Daines voted “nay”,  as he indicated (lied?) in a speech to the Montana Legislature just a couple weeks prior I wouldn’t writing this; we could take pride that “our” man had the guts (integrity?) to look out for and protect the interests of the vast majority Montana voters. But as a wise man once noted, “money talks and, well you know, with guys like Daines pulling the strings not much else matters.”

“Public lands are the fabric that binds America together, and last night’s vote by the Senate sends an alarming message to sportsmen and women—along with every citizen who values our publicly owned resources,” said Land Tawney, executive director of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, in a statement. “Nationally, an organized, concerted movement is underway to sell off and limit access to America’s public lands and waters. These are not merely the actions of a lunatic fringe. Now is the time to double down and fight back against this ill-conceived idea.

“ This is alarming for three reasons:

"First, it basically removes any restrictions on how much public land could be sold. With the national debt at $18 trillion and growing, every acre of fish and wildlife habitat would qualify.

Second, selling off public land will increase the deficit, not reduce it, because it will rob the national treasury $30 billion in annual tax receipts from a $646 billion industry supporting some 6 million jobs. When the public lands go, so does most of that outdoors recreation. And this doesn’t even include the billions in royalties private companies pay to extract wealth from our public property.

Third, no one can truly believe congress will only approve sales that send money directly to the treasury for the purpose of reducing the debt. Extractive industries such as energy and mining will quickly make the case that their use of our land will add jobs and tax dollars to the feds—which qualifies as reducing the debt.
Murkowski, Lee, and many others who voted to sell fishing and hunting habitat are members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group that supposedly looks out for the future of hunters and anglers. Yet every major sportsman’s conservation group opposes selling off the public property that makes our traditions possible."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Yet Another Yummy Burgoo...Gale Style

Fashioned after a recipe Gale discovered, called Kentucky Burgoo, which listed specific ingredients--especially the meat--as I recall, wild boar, squirrel and venison...soup stock and Guiness beer. Gale's Burgoo is concocted from whatever meats are handy. As with the original she always starts with at least three meats--this one has four, chicken, venison, ham and sage grouse. She then adds veggies and a bunch of other stuff. Into this one I watched her toss carrots, sweet and white potatoes, onion, celery, peas, string beans (?), mushrooms, beef (or chicken?) stock, a pint or so porter beer (couldn't come up with Guiness this time around in Dillon) canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a variety of spices (ask her). Instead of outside in the dutch oven as we often do, this one went into the oven at, I think, 350 degrees for about 4 hours...Anyway, served over fresh baked cornbread, trust me, this is one you do not want to miss...

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ice Out Fishing Montana Reservoirs...

Ice Out at Clark Canyon Reservoir and the fishing is hot...
The ice went off Clark Canyon Reservoir a couple days ago and trout are swarming the banks, ushering in some of the season's best and easiest fishing. Rig a 9';6-7 weight floating line; tapered leader and 2X flouro tippet. For starters set your bobber about 5 feet or so above bottom fly; add a dropper about 12-18 inches up. Rig a 1/32 oz. simple, sparsely tied wild turkey marabou jig on bottom; a #12 BH Pearl lightning bug, chrome chronomid or red SJW (bead) on the dropper.Pinch a single split shot between the bobber and dropper, just enough weight to keep tension on the bobber. To fish deeper than the length of your rod, a slip bobber makes life a whole lot easier.

Most days the best strategy is to cast out and let it sit...the longer it sits out there the better your chances of a cruising trout finding your flies. If the lake is dead calm try creating small waves with your foot just enough to move the bobber. Should all else fail, ditch the bobber; cast, count down (vary the count until you strike paydirt); strip in ever so slo-o-wly; water and trout are still cold...Right.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Lewis & Clark's Montana Discoveries...

Clockwise from top left: bull snake, grizzly bear, greater sage grouse,
 bison, arctic grayling, westslope cutthroat trout;
ChucknGale Robbins photos
...included all the above except for bison, which at the time were found all across the midwest, in parts of the northeast and southern Canada. In total the expedition is credited with discovering 172 animal species--mammal, bird, fish and reptile--and several hundred plant species new to science, most of which, including bison, were and still are found today in Montana

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Springtime In Montana...

Sage grouse struttin', sandhill cranes yodelin', gobblers gobblin', big browns munchin'...ain't springtime in Montana just wonderful.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Campfire Settin', Sippin' and Cookin'... Arizona Desert Style

Sittin' Round the Campfire...Keith Szafranski photos
As you can see, in Arizona, once the birds are cleaned, the dogs fed, the guns put away we gather about the campfire, sip a little bourbon, swap a few lies and set the Dutch Ovens in the mesquite coals, kick back, relax...Perhaps do a little star gazin'.

Tonight's meal is Gale original Arizona Burgoo with Cornbread. As you can see the Burgoo has lots a veggies--potatoes, carrots, onions, chiles, okra, corn and probably a few others, I can't recall; three kinds a meat--venison (mule deer), quail (a mix of Gambel's and Mearn's) and pheasant. The liquid is a mix of Guiness beer, red wine and beef broth. You'll have to ask Gale about spices and other ingredients.

The secret to a good burgoo is slow-cooking; this pot has been simmering for about 4 hours. The cornbread of course takes only a few minutes.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Camp Chef's Mountain Man Grill...

Ribs 'n Fixins...

Elk steaks...

Quail poppers...Keith Szafranski photos...
Each January a bunch of us--fellow Montanans, a couple Washingtonians--rendezvous in the Arizona desert to hunt quail, swap lies, sip a bit a whiskey and grill a bunch a yummy eats over the world's best campfire coals (Mesquite). This year our grillin' got a big boost with the addition of Camp Chef's Mountain Man Grill to our camp cookware arsenal.

Easy to put into operation--drive the included steel stake in ground, slip on grill add Mesquite coals and voila--grillin' whatever, campfire meals really are fit for kings...okay, no kings here but ah'm sure you get my drift.

The MMG also comes with a solid grill--like for eggs, pancakes, bacon and such--and a charcoal pan, just in case you run short the real deals--mesquite and such.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Poindexter Slough Renovation...

Funded by Future Fisheries grants and a compelling argument by local sportsmen, the Beaverhead Watershed Committee and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks fisheries biologists Poindexter Slough is getting a long-awaited and much needed face-lift.

A new head-gate designed to allow for periodic flooding to maintain spawning and insect rearing gravels, dredging decades of silt build-up, narrowing channel and returning natural meanders and bank stabilization the hope is to once again return the "Slough" to its rightful place of prominance.

While great progress has been made so far this winter, whether or not the entire project is completed depends a lot on the return of more normal, e.g. colder, weather. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park...

Gale Robbins photos...

Bryce Canyon NP (and nearby Kodachrome Basin SP) are two spots you shouldn't miss when traveling through Utah. Both are a photographer's dream, providing endless opportunities to shoot what can only be described as awesome views. Both offer year-round camping ops though beware the only loop open in Bryce during the winter provides a limited number campsites, most of which are tight getting in and tighter getting out...and come prepared with lots of leveling blocks. We found the campground all but empty, tried just about every open site and finally parked the camper going the wrong way, right off the access road--like inches off the access road. Actually not a problem, since there was hardly any through traffic and the park ranger who drove by early each morning apparently didn't give a damn which way we were headed.

The rock formations depicted above are called hoodoos. A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney, and earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos, typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.

Found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas, hoodoos range in size from a few feet to several hundred feet. Hoodoo shapes vary due to alternating hard and softer rock layers. Minerals deposits cause hoodoos to have different colors throughout their height.

As always the best photo ops (light) are early and late and for what its worth the best spots are Sunset and Inspiration Points...just one ol' man's opinion a course...You can drive to all the overlooks, something like 17 miles from Visitor's Center assuming of course the snowplows have had time to do their thing...again no problem this time around given one the least snowy winters ever...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Arizona's Canyon de Chelly...

Seven hundred feet below rim of Canyon de Chelly, Navahos still farm, carrying on a tradition thousands of years old.
Navaho family in front of traditional hogan, circa 1927...photo courtesty Northern Arizona University.

In spring  about a dozen Navajo families still return to their old homesteads at the bottom of Arizona's Canyon de Chelly. (pronounced dee chea).  For thousands of years various tribes have lived and farmed the canyon; the most recent, Navahos, have used it for centuries. In 1931, Congress authorized 84,000 acres — entirely on the Navajo Nation — as Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Today, about 80 extended Navajo families have the right to use the canyon.

Lupita McClanahan stands inside a structure at bottom of Canyon de Chelly...photo courtesy Daniel Kraker, NPR
Most reside on the rim, but a few, like Lupita McClanahan, still reside, at least part time, within the canyon. Her aim is to hold on to the traditions she learned growing up here; when her family grew corn and maintained 200 fruit trees.

"When you pick a peach you drop it in the bucket — dong, dong, dong — and the sound of it is still with me today."
But 50 years later, just a few trees still bear fruit. Extended drought has driven many farmers to the ease of life on the rim.
McClanahan's home is a traditional octaganal Hogan with an east facing door, dirt floor and log walls chinked with mud. To supplement the farming, she and her husband, Jon, operate a guide service in the canyon.

Lupita McClanahan, wearing a traditional Navajo hair knot tied with white yarn, in a shelter her husband built.
Wilson Hunter, deputy park superintendent, grew up here, too. "Everything was there we needed," Wilson says, "If we needed water you just start digging with your hand along the side of the wash. Get a little hungry, go to the cornfield and get some corn and just build a fire, and we roast 'em."

...text adapted from NPR article.