Grasses cover approximately 25% of the earth's lands and are a very rich and productive environment. We all know that grasslands mean game birds. So we run our dogs most often in areas that have at least some grasses present. Last year I presented a piece aboutspeargrasson this blog and it has received several thousand page reads, so this is a subject of some interest. The AKC Canine Health Foundation has now established aMean Seedsgrant to investigate “mean seeds” and the role they play in grass awn migration disease. According to the AKC news release, "In the sporting dog world, there is a perception among owners that there has been a dramatic escalation in the incidence of grass awn migration disease in the last 20 years."
Hopefully this research will equip us to better deal with the risk that these grass seeds pose to our dogs.
Weather was wonderful this morning - temperature about 50, overcast, a bit of wind, took the dogs for a 2 hour walk in the mountains behind our home. Heard a few quail calling in the distance. They have not really recovered since the last fires but I'm hopeful that the wet winter will bring back the local coveys. Nice just to see them, and good for dog work in the off season.
Last summer my cousin Rod presented me with a fine gift - a full set of float tube equipment. We used it on some Sierra lakes and I landed a couple of very nice trout. Now I'm thinking about bluegills and bass. There are a couple of small lakes close by, each only a couple of acres, but with a year-round water source. I've thought about fishing them for years but they are entirely circled with cattails. Now that I have the float tube I think I'll give them a whirl. I bought a half dozen poppers on-line and will have a go at it when the weather warms in a few weeks.
Also thinking about ocean fishing. The party boats out of San Diego can do pretty well. Surface fishing for bass, bonita, barracuda, and yellowtail starts in June or so. I've got a Shimano Bait Runner spinning reel (it can be put into free spool) and it works really well for fly lining a live sardine. I can toss those greenies 50 yards or more without any weight on the line, then put it in free spool and wait for a strike. Much more fun than bouncing lead off the bottom.
Took Cody to his first field trial yesterday at Setter Springs Ranch near Maricopa, California. He got his first placement in the Open Shooting Dog Derby, so he is now qualified to run in AF/AFTCA open and amateur championships. He is eleven months old and ran with the older derbies and did not disappoint me.
In The Meadow James Galvin writes of the Western landscape and illuminates the character of the people, their inter-dependance and how the land that we call The West shaped them. This book reads like an accounting of life, not a novel, but fulfills the requirements of both. Here's a sample:
Almost everything Lyle did was hazardous. And after his brothers had gone he mostly worked alone: felling trees with chainsaws; balancing on the top log of a barn; hewing with an axe so sharp that a couple of fingers or toes wouldn't even slow it down; or just out fencing – old wire can snap under the stretcher and come at you like a snake...
Lyle learned to pay attention, to think things through and not get ahead of himself, not to lapse into inattention ever. After a while he couldn't not pay attention, shaking a stranger's hand, tasting Mrs. So and So's pickles, setting fenceposts. It endowed all his actions with precision. I gave him total recall. It obliterated time.
The Meadow by James Galvin,Henry Holt and Co., 1992
I am posting this contribution from Roy Pool of Arizona to make everyone aware of the fragile nature of our Mearn's quail populations. As always, game species management has a lot of stakeholders - hunters, land owners, grazers, and local, state and federal government agencies. Food for thought and a warning.
For years, those of us who live in or near Mearn's quail country have been frustrated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department's lack of response to the ebbs and flows of Mearn's quail populations. The feeling of most long time Mearn's quail hunters is that AzG&F does nothing to manage the resource - and that is the best that can be said of the Department concerning Mearn's quail. The worst that is said, and said often, is that AzG&F is ruled by marketers that promote Mearn's quail hunting to such an extent that the resource is threatened with extirpation in the best areas. The Department, its detractors say, ignores the advice of biologists that base their recommendations on solid in-the-field science, focusing instead on an effort to attract non-resident hunter dollars to the state.
In December 2009, I realized that Mearn's quail were in trouble. There was a monsoon failure that year and Mearn's quail reproduction was near zero in most of the best places that Mearn's quail are found in the USA. If you knew where to go and had good dogs, you could still find 6 or 7 coveys in a day's hunting but all the coveys - I hesitate to call them that - were pairs or 3-4 birds, all adults. Although the failure of the summer rains meant very low grass production in most areas, there was no reduction in grazing allotments in the National Forests where most Mearn's quail are found. Consequently, most of us expected a lower than usual over-winter survival of Mearn's quail and we braced ourselves for another poor season this year.
In June or July of 2010 - I'll have to look up the date - I reported a shocking dearth of quail found when I took a friend to the two best canyons there are in Mearn's quail country - and believe me, I know every canyon there is down here. I told him that I expected to find far fewer quail than in average years, but we'd find some, at least 10 pairs, with the help of my very experienced dogs. We found none at all, zero, no tracks, no scratchings, no sign at all. Something was terribly wrong in Mearn's quail country.
Well, with the help of another Mearn's hunter I found out what was wrong. He sent me an abstract from a wildlife biologist's Ph.D. dissertation. This biologist's research study is Mearn's quail ecology and his study area is in the heart of Mearn's quail country here in Arizona. What went wrong in Mearn's quail country last year was this: we had a week of unprecedented cold temperatures, in the teens, and most of the quail literally froze to death on their roosts. Mearn's quail are a subtropical species and their USA populations occupy the northern-most fringe of their range. Here, in Arizona, they are found mostly at high elevations, above 4,000 ft, and brother, it got cold there last year. That, coupled with the small covey size - Mearn's quail roost on the ground like bobwhites and there were too few birds in most coveys to keep them warm - killed the birds. Many, perhaps most, areas experienced a 90% or greater mortality. Many of the best areas that I visited personally with my best dogs had a complete wipe out - there were no quail at all.
There was a lot of pressure on the AzG&F Department to act to protect the resource. That is their primary responsibility, after all. AzG&F's response was, well, no response at all. The Mearn's quail season was just as long as it's always been and the bag limits were unchanged. When asked why the Department failed to protect what was left of the Mearn's quail resource, AzG&F spokespersons gave these excuses:
(1). No one knew that the quail were in trouble prior to the opening week of the season. Well, my response to this excuse is - what a crock of bs! The biologist who documented the drastic die-off of quail sent his findings to AzG&F in writing, recommending a complete closure of the hunting season months before the season took place.
(2). The season and bag limits were already printed in the hunting regulation booklet and it was too late to change anything. My response - why is it impossible for AzG&F to act at any time at all to protect the resource? Other states do it, why not Arizona?
(3). "Oh," one guy at AzG&F told me, "the birds will come back. Populations boom and bust all the time. The birds always come back." Hmmm, where have I heard that line before? …How about those of you who live in what was historically the greatest, most productive bobwhite range in the country, the southeast - have you heard that line?… Those places were quail heaven when I was doing my master's research on quail ecology, way back in the 70's. How's the quail hunting there now, folks?
(4). "Hunting is self limiting," I was told. "Hunters that go out on
Opening Day and don't find any quail don't come back, so we don't need to close the season." Well, I used to think that is true and it probably is in most places but it is not true in Mearn's quail country and here's why it isn't true. Have you ever heard the old saying that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish? Well, that is also the case when it comes to the Mearn's quail hunter harvest. There is a special set of circumstances that will make it always true, here in Mearn's quail country. The 10% of the hunters that get all the quail are mostly old, retired guys like me, guys that winter here and hunt every day. …One fellow I talked to explained why. "I'm 73 years old, Roy," he told me. "My dog is 8. I can hunt now and my dog can too, but the clock is ticking for both of us. How long will it take for the quail to come back? Five years, 10?" I can't blame him, really, but if AzG&F closed the season, the few quail that are left would be protected from guys like him.
(5). "The hunter harvest is compensatory mortality, not additive," I heard for the umpteenth time. "Birds killed by hunters would have died from natural causes anyway, all the quail studies have shown that." Well, not all the studies have shown that and I can provide documentary evidence collected by scientists in the field to prove that under some circumstances, hunter kill can be additive. Not only that, but "all the studies" referred to by AzG&F are bobwhite studies, not Mearn's quail studies.
Here's the thing. When Mearn's quail numbers are so low that only two pairs occupy a canyon that used to support 100, it is vitally important that both those hens survive if there is to be any hope of even one covey in the canyon next year. Even if both hens do survive and the males also, chances are, one of the nests will be lost next summer - there are lots of nest predators in this country. There will be no recovery if there are no birds left to breed.
As far as I'm concerned AzG&F has been grossly incompetent in performing their function with regard to protecting the Mearn's quail resource. I am the client, you are, too, all of us as hunters. AzG&F has been frustratingly unresponsive to us, the clients who pay their salaries with our hunting license fees. It should be relatively easy to find out where the incompetence lies. If it is the field biologists that fail to gather evidence necessary to let the decision makers act to protect the resource, they should be fired. If the biologists are acting responsibly and competently but the decision makers are failing to act, then they should be fired.
My setter Rosie is a walking disaster area. Boundless enthusiasm untempered by even a shred of common sense. She's been stitched more times than any other dog I know - probably twice as many times - and now has endured her second snake bite. She looks truly pathetic in this picture - oh the ignominy that a regal setter should look like a sharpei.
She was bit yesterday evening (Friday) and today (Saturday) she seems to be recovering well. She gets rattlesnake antivenom every August and perhaps that is a factor. Much more swelling this time than last so the vet gave her one round of antivenom and more benadryl, plus lots of antibiotics.
Somehow, she's never been skunked or slapped by a porky. She does truly hate coyotes and attacks every one she sees. I saw her roll one a year or so ago, and it then took off even faster. She's got 10 ounds on them so one-on-one they don't stick around.
I've never seen a snake out so early in the year here around San Diego. We've had several weeks of cool weather, but recently it has warmed into the 70's and that apparently brought them out.
Somehow, I keep coming back to this... What separates the 'special' dogs from all the others? It always seems to be some combination of talent, physical ability and presence, personality, and intelligence.
With bird dogs it is hard to overestimate the importance of intelligence. They learn from birds, from us, from each other, from everything around them. They can learn things that please us, or things that displease us. Purposeful, self-directed ground application when hunting reveals learning and intelligence. We say that birds make the dog. True. All we can hope to do is expose the dog to birds, help him to be successful, and add some polish to their manners. Most of it is on the dog.
Some people say that dogs cannot think. Maybe not, but they can sure figure things out.
One example that comes to mind is a border collie that was in the news recently, the dog had learned over 1,000 words and would associate other words to modify a request - “Get the green ball.” as opposed to “Get the ball.”
But measuring canine intelligence is always polluted by the fact that the researchers are human and limited in their ability to understand and interpret observed behavior. I think that, perhaps, the dogs we think are most intelligent are the ones that have lived close to us and put in the effort required to understand us and that, by itself, requires a good deal of intelligence. My setter, Ted, just came to sit next to my chair, cocked his head and made a tiny whine. “Outside?” I said, and he gave a yip and headed to the back door. He learned how to communicate what he wanted without my training him to do it – he trained ME.
Psychology research has shown that human faces are asymmetrical with the gaze instinctively moving to the right side of a face upon encountering other humans to obtain information about their emotions and state. Research at the University of Lincoln (2008) shows that dogs share this instinct when meeting a human being, and only when meeting a human being (ie, not other animals or other dogs). As such they are the only non-primate species known to do so.
Did you know this? Well, apparently your dog does.
When I look into a dogs' eyes I can see that there is an intelligent presence. There's someone at home.
Life is short Quit your job. Turn off the TV. Go outside and play.
The photo behind the title header was made by Clair Kofoed in NE Oregon several years ago - Jesse pointing, Huns flushing, and me thinking about the camera and shooting behind.
This century's quotes
"Over the long haul of life on this planet, it is the ecologists, and not the bookkeepers of business, who are the ultimate accountants."
- Stewart Udall, 1970
"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end"