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."