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  • #16
    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.

    Click image for larger version

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    Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.

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    • #17
      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, 14:42. Reason: Feather stuff
      Go Big Red!

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      • #18
        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
        Go Big Red!

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        • #19
          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.roud:

          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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          • #20
            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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            • #21
              I'm almost positive it had been eating blueberries. That was toward the latter end of September just before those high ridges on the highway became snow-covered.
              Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.

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              • #22
                Skinny,

                Yep, I'll bet that bird and its buddies were in transition toward another burn area down lower in the valley where they will take up residency for the winter.

                Jim

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                • #23
                  Great thread! I've learned a ton.
                  "If I could shoot a game bird and still not hurt it, the way I can take a trout on a fly and release it, I doubt if I would kill another one." George Bird Evans

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                  • #24
                    that other video was very good and it had a link to this one which is equally impressive.

                    http://vimeo.com/13348391

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                    • #25
                      HI Jim,

                      I'm looking forward to seeing you at the RGS banquet on Saturday, April 9th. Glad you can make it this year! I hope to purchase your second book and get it signed again too!

                      Great thread!
                      That country was so hungry even the ravens were packin' a lunch.... HUNGRY I tell ya'!!

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                      • #26
                        Thank you, sir! And I'm looking forward to the trip down as well. I plan on starting out before dawn and photographing my way down to Anchorage. Might be a long day.

                        Jim

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                        • #27
                          I have to agree whole-heartedly that Fish and Game is really behind the 8 ball on small game management. Fortunately, a lot of the managed moose habitat is really good for sharp-tails (for the first ten years or so), so we have something to be happy about. I really like the idea of forming a group locally to work on some grouse habitat enhancement projects around the are. What we have were set up specifically for ruffed grouse, which is great, but I think that having some areas actively managed for sharp-tails would also be beneficial.

                          I have to say that in my experience, few birds are actually on lekking sites by the end of the hunting season. Lekking sites are very variable form one year to the next. Some years as many as 50 birds can use a lek, and the following year it will be used by only a small handful. One thing I have found is that many times, males will dance whenever they find a female. Lots of times you can find a female perched in a tree or brush near the edge of a field or meadow, and males will dance beneath her, chasing her if she moves away. Males will often hang out near a lek site in bachelor groups, but will visit many different leks before settling on one where they will dance. I guess you could call it a grouse bar crawl.

                          As for hunting at leks, females will only come to leks after a number of males have congregated there. And while I commend people for not wanting to kill breeding birds, very few males will actually breed. It is generally the older, more experienced males that will breed, and the younger males are just there for the show. Hunting males on lek sites is probably not a major issue for a population. I agree with PG 13 that weather and spring conditions are far more likely to drive populations of grouse more than hunting pressure, until it becomes extreme. In most birds, nest success is very low. I don't have any good numbers for grouse in the interior, but ducks generally have about 10-30% success, meaning that 70-90% of all nesting attempts fail to hatch at least one egg. Across Alaska, predation pressure on duck nests is one of the most common causes of nest failure. And not what you might expect. Wolves, bears, coyotes and foxes do their share, but so do ravens, gulls, squirrels, voles, and weasels, to name just a few. I guess doing the no-rain dance would be the best thing for the birds.

                          Nesting habitat is very poorly understood as well. Prior to the ADFG and Army study this past year, there was only one nest formally described in the scientific literature for the Alaskan subspecies. Good nesting habitat has been proven to be critical for populations which have regular cyclical fluctuations, such as grouse. Sharp-tails need good cover, safety from predation, and a steady supply of food for the hen and insects of the young. A slight change in spring conditions could make the peak insect hatch earlier than the grouse chicks would hatch, and food for the chicks could be pretty scarce.

                          Anyone looking for a lek would have to really put some time in to find one. Unless you stumble upon it, leks can be very difficult to locate, as PG13 mentioned. You can be 100 yards away and with just a light wind, you can't hear the calling at all. And often, at least in my experience, Alaskan sharp-tails don't call as much as those in the Montana video LuJon posted. Often, you'll be more likely to hear tail rattling than anything else. It sounds like a combination of rustling leaves and 2 pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together.

                          I have also been thinking more about the fall migrations. The winter habitat for sharp-tails is pretty variable, but almost all habitat contains dwarf birch. I can't think of a bird I have seen from October to March that was not pretty close to a stand of dwarf birch. Often this can be at high elevations, just below treeline, but any meadow or island on the Tanana can be just as productive. A few years back, I was conducting some forest inventory work near Fairbanks, and my lab flushed close to 35 birds. I lost count around 25. We went back the very next morning, and they were gone. There had been a light dusting of snow, and there were no tracks. Just goes to show how variable they can be.

                          Hope this info helps everyone out. I'm not divulging all of my secrets (not that I know much about hunting them), but I figured I share what I could. Good luck finishing up the season!

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                          • #28
                            Well, I'm excited now. I'm not sure if I have enough time for another favorite bird because I'm going to have to work at least a few days in September...

                            Where could a fellow get ahold of a copy of the Army/ADFG study on sharptails?
                            Passing up shots on mergansers since 1992.

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                            • #29
                              Skinny,

                              I knew they were doing this radio collar study and then never heard anymore. Quite frankly, I've been so busy I've been out of touch on such matters. I'll get the scoop and let you know. Don't let me forget. And don't expect much information. The last time radio collars were put on Delta sharptails they were killed by raptors in short order.

                              Jim

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                              • #30
                                Originally posted by LuJon View Post
                                that other video was very good and it had a link to this one which is equally impressive.

                                http://vimeo.com/13348391

                                WOW thats one awesom video. theres nothing like those birds when they dance:topjob:
                                “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” - (Aldo Leopold)

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