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  1. #1
    Member SkinnyD's Avatar
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    Default sharps

    Sitting in my cubicle, thinking about hunting and fishing (like normal)... one of the smokejumpers came in with a poster that he wanted to print that showed some information on prescribed fire and sharp-tailed grouse. So it got me to thinking... where do I need to go to find a sharp-tailed grouse? I've read some folks posts about hunting on farms down toward Delta, but do they show up out on the tundra too, or are sharps fairly dependent on agriculture to make a living?

    As a post-script, how do farmers feel about bird hunters up here? I'd throw some square bales on a hay wagon this summer if it meant a friendly farmer would let me walk his fencerow in September....
    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.


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    SkinnyD,

    Sharptails are found in a whole lot of areas across interior Alaska besides the agricultural areas around Delta. They are found in grassy bogs, along railroads, power lines, the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, and along many of the interior region's rivers, like on grassy gravel bars along the Tanana, Yukon, Koyukuk...well, lots of such places. Why just the other day I was out roading my dogs and my teenage daughter was along with me. We drove past a spot along an old railroad bed along the edge of Fairbanks and she remembered going out there as a very little girl when I worked my Brittany (Buddy, now 13+ years old) on small groups and one large covey of maybe 30+ sharptails. In my book I wrote about a 1952 UAF paper written about the plentiful sharptails found along the railroad tracks below the UAF in the 1930s, and the mass emmigration of sharptails during that same period. The paper spoke of a dearth of sharptails for many decades.

    I suspect the huge wildfire areas of the last few years here in the interior will populate with sharptails very quickly. They are now found as far north as Coldfoot because of wildfire. I'd be interested in hearing more about the poster and what those federal folks have been doing in terms of studying the sharptail grouse. I love hunting them and do quite well each season. I often think of starting some sort of group like the Ruffed Grouse Society to work on sharptail grouse matters.

    My first love is the ruffed grouse, but the sharp-tailed grouse comes in a very close second.



    Now 10 year old Rusty with a sharptail.



    Jim

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    Member Hoyt's Avatar
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    Jim,
    That group ideas sounds interesting. If you ever get anything going with that, I would love to be involved. I am looking at getting out this spring to some of the wildfire areas that occurred over the last few years around the area to look for Sharpies. In Alaska, when do they start hitting their dancing grounds (Leeks I believe)?
    Ryan

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    Hoyt,

    They're called Leks, and I'd start looking in late April and on into early May. I'll be doing some looking as well 'cause I want to take some photos. It usually takes a couple or three years or so for sharptails to move into an area, but if the conditions are right - grass not too tall or thick, and food is present- given the opportunity wildlife will do what they please, when they please to do it. Use a good binocular to cover more area in your searching. If you find a lek, usually only the males will hang around that area during the fall hunting season, and I hate to shoot them so I head the dogs off in other directions. The females could be some distance away with broods, maybe a couple, three miles. Regrettably, there is one lek right in the middle of the Army's firing range south of the Richardson Highway. Those are birds that over-winter across the Tanana River in the flats. I hope they are doing well.

    I've been invited down to the Anchorage Ruffed Grouse Society banquet on Apirl 9th to sign a bunch of books and talk grouse and dogs, and I might bring up the subject of doing some work on sharptails to see if there is any interest. That banquet takes in a lot of money for a one night event.

    Jim

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    I'll see if I can't at least get ahold of his References section and send it along to you, Jim. A quick search around Google Scholar would probably give you the same stuff he used though, and I wouldn't hold very high hopes that work done around here is particularly scholarly. I bet if one were to spend an afternoon at the library over at UAF where they have online subscriptions to all the scholarly journals, he could find all the academic research ever done on sharp-tails.
    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.


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    Member SkinnyD's Avatar
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    I did a Google search of my own, and now I'm hooked on a new bird. This is a cool, cool video.
    http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/...ken-lek-spring

    I also found the North American Grouse Partnership... http://www.grousepartners.org/ which has some nice pictures and information.
    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.


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    SkinnyD,

    I've had that video on my computer for some time and every once in awhile I watch it and drool. I dream of producing something similar, but I'm not too optimisitic I'll ever get it done. Thanks for linking it here for others to watch. Would have taken me 9 weeks to get that done!

    Over the years I've been in touch with the folks at the North American Grouse Partnership and we've discussed Alaska's birds, and I learned some interesting stuff about sharptails in other areas on the continent, but we've yet to get something going up here. Maybe when I have more free time...if that ever happens!

    Jim

  8. #8

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    Having been involved in some of the Sharp-tailed grouse (STGR) research in the interior, I can assure you that there is very little known about them. ADF&G is finishing up a study on nesting and brood-rearing habitat, but other than that, only a couple papers exist. Alaskan STGR are a subspecies unique to Alaska and the Yukon Territory, so there is a big need for more research. I agree with Jim that there is likely to be some resurgence in the population across the Interior, but by all reports, the current population is about as low as has ever been recorded.

    That said, if you spend the time looking, there are still plenty to be found. Good luck hunting for them!

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    All good info! I'm going to be spending a pretty good amount of time scouting my grouse grounds around where I live this spring. I also want to put some time and effort into photographing and or filming some birds. I've become more and more interested in Sharpies, and as I stated I plan on getting out this spring to look for them.
    Jim,
    I came across a group of males this past fall in an area that (from what I have read) seems to be an area they would use as a Lek. It was late fall when I found them there. Would that be an area that you would suggest I head back to this spring? I'm also planning on heading south of here in the neighborhood of where I told you my wife is from. I hope I can find some Sharpies down in that area. From all info I have, from folks that have lived there for years, there could be decent numbers of them in that area. Again, if you get some kind of group going, please let me know.
    Ryan

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    Hey Jim,
    I've also been meaning to contact you about the techniques you use to find birds to view in the spring. If your looking over a new area, do you use your dogs to locate birds (which would also probably be good training for the dogs), or do you walk around aimlessly in good habitat? Like I said I'm interested in looking for drumming logs, and or leks this spring. I've tried to locate drummers, by listening to them, but always find it tough to pin point their location. I have a covert that I call “Sleepy Hollow” near my house that I hear drummers at in this spring (and once in the fall), and that I regularly take Ruffies out of. I’m hoping I can find some birds there this spring to photograph. Hopefully you can share some of those techniques. If you want you can PM me the info, but I thought others may be interested as well!

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    Hoyt,

    No, I don't use my dogs to find drummers or leks. As to finding drumming logs...after a long lifetime of searching for them I have developed a great eye to locating them. I can be driving along a back country road at considerable speed and my eyes will pick up something that cries out "Drumming Log!"

    Here are a few random thoughts on how to find them: 1. drive or walk through good ruffed grouse cover. 2. Look for logs (downed trees) or more often a mound of dirt that is mostly moss or debris covered except for one small area of exposed dirt caused by the grouse' rapid wing beats dispersing it. 3. Train your eye to see those things, as well as light brown (recent) or white (old) droppings on that exact drumming site. 4. Also train your eye to spy the grouse itself standing motionless on said log/mound.

    Usually the drumming site will be in rather thick brush so as to protect the bird from raptors, although, I've found and photographed drumming logs right out in the open where a grouse was just asking to be killed. It will be some form of raised position where the birds drumming will be projected out to potential mates and it may have one considerable piece of cover, like another tree, or uprooted roots from the downed tree to offer the bird absolute protection from at least one side. Often the bird will have one favored drumming log, but also one or two other similar sites close by.

    When we do drumming counts along a specified route we'll go out just after daylight breaks, and again just before the sun sets, but I've seen them stay on their logs well beyond noon, and I've photographed them in pouring rain and even hail! Women will be the death of us, I tell ya! A drumming route will have about 10 stops, 1/2 mile apart. You simply stop, and remain very quiet, listening for at least 4 minutes. It's amazing to time a drummer, and I've done it many times. He'll drum for about 10 seconds every four minutes. I developed a drumming route - a really great one- on military land years back and was out in the late evening working my route. I really wanted to hear a drummer at this particular spot and left my truck (always shut off) way behind me and stood motionless and very quiet in the nearby woods. When I heard a twig snap I turned to see a grizzly between me and the truck, and the bear was moving toward me and hadn't yet seen or smelled me. At 20 yds this was not a good thing, so I simply said, "My, aren't you a handsome fellow!" and hoped for the best. He was shocked to discover me and whoofed and pounded his front paws before whirling and running off some 50 yds to stop and watch me. Quite exciting!

    I found a real nice drumming log on the farm in Delta last fall when my dogs pointed him, but I let him fly off. I particularly like the spot, a large dirt mound, because the bird's droppings indicate he mostly faces south, and that means good light for me to photograph him. I may combine a search for sharptails on the leks with setting up my blind on his site this spring if I find the time to do it.

    Miller,

    You have piqued my interest on the sharptail study. I'm guessing you either work for ADF&G or the Army as both did some sharptail work together last year? And you know, my old friend who does nearly all of the bird census work for ADF&G, at least on sharptail leks and ptarmigan along the Denali, told me last summer that few birds were found on the Delta leks and he forecast a dismal season for hunting. But one can never tell for certain 'cause I think I had the best sharptail season of my life, and that means I found a pile of birds!

    It's all a great mystery, and God knows I love to solve mysteries. I'm forever the student and can't learn enough about these fabulous creatures.

    I still dream of developing a cadre of what I would call "Co-operators" around the state to report on ptarmigan numbers as well as other bird work. ADF&G has hardly anyone doing anything on small game. That's not where the money is.

    Got to run. Let's talk more about this stuff. It's my favorite subject.

    Jim

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    Jim,
    Thanks for all that info! I really appreciate it! I'm getting more and more excited for spring!

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    Hoyt,

    My pleasure! After all these decades I remain excited about everything to do with these upland birds. I'm still quite thrilled whenever I see a grouse or ptarmigan. I hope it's always so.

    I have plenty of slides depicting drumming logs of all types, drummers, snow roosts, you name it, but I've yet to get them scanned and be able to show them on the web. Sorry. I have a video of a drummer,too, and one of these days I may have it put onto a DVD, but likely I'll just create a new one with my Canon 7D set to video.

    Jim

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    About 15 years ago there was an area up the Elliot Highway in an old burn that had flocks of hundreds of Sharptails. They would fly up to the top of the tallest spires of burned spruce and perch looking over their domain. They were in the high country up there eating blueberries. I have never seen it like that since as that was a very high cycle year for them.

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    Contender,

    What time of year was that? Could be they were in, or transitioning toward their wintering grounds.

    And it appears that large numbers of sharptails, for some unknown reason, will emmigrate every 30 years. Where they go is anyone's guess.

    Jim

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    This bird came from a burn on that same stretch of highway. I was never sure if it was a ptarmigan trying to molt, a strange hen spruce grouse, or a sharp-tail. The canvasback was one of Katydid's finest retrieves of the year. Wish I'd taken a better picture of the grouse/ptarm bird though.

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    Default Visual ID of grouse

    "I was never sure if it was a ptarmigan trying to molt, a strange hen spruce grouse, or a sharp-tail."

    Skinny:

    Looks a lot like a sharptail to me. Check out the following link and maybe it might refresh something you've forgotten.

    http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/b...d/stgrouse.htm

    Do you remember any attributes of the tail? If you can zoom in on your original photo the feathers on the top of the head can help sex the bird as well.

    PG13
    Last edited by PG13; 03-11-2011 at 14:42. Reason: Feather stuff

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    Default Thoughts on thread to date.

    Ok gang, please bear with me. I was out of state for training and I'm going to try to address all of my reactions in the same message so that it's easy to find and reference if interested.

    Society whisper: In my first dose of college in NW Minnesota we would assist the Minnesota Sharp-Tailed Grouse Society with their annual brush cutting work day each late winter/early spring. They would go out to areas were brush encroachment was getting too thick for optimal habitat and we would open it up using saws and ax or anything else destructive to the woody plants. It was a good project for local residents, conservation folks, and budding conservation "kids" to get together, interact, volunteer, and do something good for the birds. Jim, if you really think you want to try to build something like this you can check out what Minnesota has (http://sharptails.org/) or message me and I can forward you contact info for some of the major players in that organization.

    STGR lek searches: Lek is Scandinavian for "playground." Look for groups of males to be performing on these arenas probably in late April- early May as was suggested. Snow cover and climate have nothing to do with initiation of display, it's all gonadal and light related. In the Great Plains I usually worked where access was on a mile by mile grid so I would just stop every 1/4 to 1/2 mile and listen. More birds will be found by listening than by watching in my experience. If there is an open area that can be seen near topography it is possible to sight the leks as well.

    Sharptails are vocal but they don't broadcast terribly well. During my M.S. research on greater prairie-chickens I could hear chickens from as far away as 3 miles on still mornings. Sharptails and chickens are sympatric (occur in the same region but maintain their individual species' identities) in that region yet I had a hard time locating STGR leks more than 1/2 mile away, ever. Spring mornings are the best time to locate leks but they will return to dance in the evenings during peak breeding season. As Hoyt discovered, the males congregate at the lekking sites in the fall as well. The dancing is much reduced but there is some posturing and dancing in response to the light and in preparation for springtime.

    Hunting: Jim, I recognize your interest in not shooting males near leks but often that isn't the limiting factor for the population. See spring conditions for chicks and winter severity and food/cover resources. Obviously you wouldn't want to go in and shoot everything you saw, but males are pretty disposable in upland populations. It could be a go-to spot for a young dog or a young hunter for their first bird. The males will often spend about 9 months at or near the lek location. Females are the dispersers as Jim pointed out (finding broods up to miles away from the lek). However, the females often nest within a 2-mile radius of the lek where copulation occurred (could differ for AK sharptails, I'm with miller on need for regional research) but can take their broods into the double digit miles if necessary to find the best brooding conditions.

    When I used to hunt them in North Dakota I would look for transition areas between nice open feeding and dense cover. This could be a habitat edge between fields, the "fencerow" habitats, or simply the tracks from machinery allowing them access to food or to flush easier. Others have had good success pass shooting when they find where the birds transition from night roost to feeding areas. It's not AS sporting but any harvest of a bird is still commendable (beyond ground-pounding for this species).

    Migration (or not): Males will often stay in bachelor groups near the lek. Hens/broods and hens without broods will tend to stay in small family or feeding groups away from the lek. Although year round residents, they will take part in partial migrations where they group up in the fall near cover or food resources. I'm guessing Contender saw these groups in the winter or early spring before lekking began but birds were getting cagey (like Skinny and I in our cubicles).

    Scholarly research: Skinny, I really like the NA Grouse Partnership folks and materials. They have a magazine that reports emerging scientific research with practical tips and not as technical of writing style. For the Google Scholar stuff you were talking about I would first search through the Grouse Bibliography compiled by a "buddy" of mine in Oklahoma. See Don's hard work here... http://suttoncenter.org/caffeine/upl...ions/pubs.html Scroll down to the "Grouse Bibliography compiled by Donald H. Wolfe" link. See Bonasa for Ruffed Grouse research, Dendragapus for Blue and Spruce Grouse , Lagopus for Ptarmigan species, and Tympanuchus for Sharp-tailed Grouse. If you see an article that excites you search Google Scholar. If it's not available online there may be a few of us watching this forum that might be able to dig it up for you.

    The best conservation is done by integrating scholarly research, hunting, and general experience and observation. Keep it up gang, this place is full of folks that have something to contribute, maybe even ME!

    PG13

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    PG13,

    Excellent post! But stay away from me 'cause I'll pick your scholarly brain clean!

    Couple of further random thoughts from me:

    I do run my young dogs on those males around lek areas, they're too good to pass up. But I do have a hard time viewing the lives of males as less important in the grand scheme of things. I get enough of that around the house from the wife and daughter.

    I've got a feeling I know where and possibly when Contender saw the group of birds (and neither I or Contender should say it openly on the www) but I'm betting on during late September, or even early October, and that those birds were transitioning toward winter grounds. A lot of our Alaska sharptails will easily migrate 15 to 20 or more miles back and forth to wintering grounds. Very interesting stuff.

    I've got the hunting and the general experience stuff down pretty well on our Alaska gamebirds and I'll read anything I can find, but I'll never have the scholarly part down, so you make sure you come back here often. Can't seem to get enough of this stuff. Every time I get one question answered I come up with many more questions.

    Again, excellent post. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Jim

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    Just saw the post on Skinny's photo. I can gaurantee you that you indeed shot a sharp-tailed grouse. Looks to be a young bird. Sorry, but without further description or better photos I can't possibly tell the sex of said bird. And I must ask, 'cause I always do...what had that sharptail been eating, if you remember?

    Jim

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