Sunday, March 30, 2008

Masked Bobwhite - a visit to Buenos Aires NWR

Recently returned from Southern Arizona where I was fortunate to visit the Altar Valley , a rich grassland located SW of Tucson. Originally established as a ranch by Pedro Aguirre in 1864, the 118,000 acre Buenos Aires was purchased by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1985. The purchase was made to preserve and restore the largest ungrazed grassland in Arizona and to protect habitat for wildlife - especially for the masked bobwhite quail.

The masked bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) had vanished from its small range in Southern Arizona by around 1900, due to habitat changes brought on by cattle grazing. The masked bobwhite was thought to be extinct by the 1930's. Then, in 1964, Steve Gallizioli, an Arizona Game and Fish biologist, and naturalists Jim and Seymour Levy of Tucson, rediscovered a small population in Sonora, Mexico and a program to re-introduce the bird was initiated. Introductions of pen raised birds on grazed cattle ranches failed. Then the Endangered Species Act made possible the acquisition of the Buenos Aires property in the mid-80's, cattle were removed from the grasslands, and funding was made available to begin a larger restoration program. 

Still, after the rearing and release of more than 25,000 masked bobwhite quail, success has eluded the FWS. Mortality rates after release are over 90% - not surprising, since quail mortality year to year is high due to predation. While the FWS says in official documents that perhaps 100 to 200 wild birds live in the Buenos Aires grassland, Bonnie Swarbrick of the FWS at Buenos Aires told me there may be as few as 50 wild birds established at the refuge.

Sometimes what is undone cannot later be remedied, despite the best of intentions. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Misconceptions about field trials and trial dogs

Many people seem to have the idea that a field trial is a sort of greyhound race, and that trial bred dogs are useless to the hunter who walks behind his dog. This view has been promulgated by the many outdoor scribes who are long on opinions and short on actual experience. People read their words and believe and repeat them. It becomes 'fact' because everyone 'knows' it is true. Other folks are skeptical that field trialing achieves the goal of improving the breeds of bird dogs.

But are these common perceptions really based in fact? Let us consider for a few minutes what qualities the IDEAL bird dog might have...

1. Endurance - a bird dog should be able to hunt at a good clip for a reasonable amount of time. My average hunt for birds in the West is between four and seven hours. I don't usually have the priviledge of looping back to my truck to exchange dogs, so I need a dog that can go the distance. I doubt that there are many hunting venues that ask more in terms of endurance than a day of chukar hunting in the river canyons of the Northwest. For this reason, I have put endurance first on the list. It may be less important to you.

2. Nose - without the physical ability to detect birds, a dog is decoration at best.

3. Intelligence – a dog must develop ‘bird sense’.  By this I mean the ability to learn and retain the skills required to efficiently search out birds and to handle the birds so that the hunter is allowed the best opportunity for a shot. This requires some intelligence in the dog.

4. Ground application - the ideal dog is effective at hunting the available terrain and cover by intelligent application and must have the physical ability to get this done in all types of terrain in any weather that the owner may want to hunt or trial in. The dog needs to look at the terrain and cover and set off to search the high probability areas for birds. He should be swift, and not potter around every clump of cover.

5. Biddability - I am not a professional trainer. Like most amateurs, I want a dog that has a lot of natural ability AND that takes training quickly and retains it.

6. Handle - a dog that wants to be with its owner and is naturally inclined to please that owner will learn to hunt co-operatively and happily. It will be easy to teach, and eager to go about the business of finding birds for its owner. It seems that some dogs handle to the front and co-operate naturally.

7.. Temperment - My dogs, and I am sure many of yours, live with me year around, and are my constant companions. I want them to be calm and mannerly around me, my family, strangers, and other dogs - especially when hunting or trialing.

8. Style - as long as I am asking for all the attributes above, why not ask for a dog that looks great running and on its birds? Because we have to look at them, we may as well like what we see.

Most hunters who love dogs would like to have dogs with the appropriate mix of the qualities above. And it is no big leap to understand that field trialers seek the same qualities in the dogs they trial - and in many cases hunt behind. A trialer may value some of these attributes above others, depending on the venue he (or she) trails in, but they do want them all, and they judge dogs based in large part upon these attributes. Trialers, judges and breeders are all looking for "the whole package". This is true whether the trailer is running foot handled cover dogs, walking Shooting Dogs, or horseback handled Shooting Dogs and All-Age dogs. The ultimate goal of field trialing is to breed and demonstrate dogs with these qualities. While perfection is seldom, if ever, attained, it can be approached. But even the best breed dog must be developed and trained. Without this all is for naught.

Many a hunter’s ‘brag dog’ has field trial breeding close up in their pedigree.

Field trials are not won on race alone. They are won by successfully finding and handling birds, since few judges want to put up a dog that has not shown that it can do so. Race is important relative to the objective of good ground application and completing the course on time. A dog that can trial hard for one to three hours is not going to have a problem hunting at a more moderate pace for twice as long. If the dog is fast and stylish, and handles well while hunting intelligently, and shows that it can find and correctly handle birds, then that dog will be on the judges' short list. Judging in AF trials and most other trails is highly subjective - as it should be. The objective, remember, is selecting the dog that, on that day, in that trial, showed that it best fulfilled the qualities that the judges were seeking and was not just racking up bird counts.

Flyrod Technicana

Spent time yesterday with Larry Tusoni of High Sierra Rod Company at his great old stone building and shop in Angel's Camp, CA. His partner, Charles Irvine, had built a small stream rod for me in the late 90's, but I have sold my vintage Gary Howells 5 weight, and needed a replacement rod for the usual pocket water fishing I find on my favorite stream, the McCloud.

After casting an eight foot six weight rod of Larry's design, I ordered a 8' 3" five weight 'penta' 5 strip fluted butt dry fly rod. It will have a medium fast action, but a slow enough tip to throw a downstream wiggle cast. Most bamboo rods built today are 6 strip rods and Larry is one of the few people who make 5 strip rods. 

Here's the technicana part - a diagram and a quote from Nat Uslan of Spring Valley, New York.

Why Five Strip Construction? by Nat Uslan - August, 1974

When anything bends -- be it a tree in the wind -- an automobile spring -- an archer's bow -- or a fly rod, the material lying along the outside of the curve is stretched, while that along the inside is compressed. Were it not for the fact that every little element comprising, for example, the tree trunk were intimately united by nature, each would slide upon the next, thus enough so, in fact that but few glues in existence can equal its srength. The tendency of one element to slide over the next, while the rod is bent, is most pronounced along a line joining opposite corners of a rod built of an even number of strips.

Therefore the glue line is called upon to resist the strongest internal stresses, a situation precisely the reverse of a proper arrangement. The simple expedient of substituting five slightly wider strips restores order. No continuous straight glue line extends through the center of the five strip rod section. The heavy sliding stresses are then borne by the bamboo rather than glue.

In other words, a five strip rod is stronger and more resilient than a six strip rod, and thus, need not be as thick or heavy - that's the theory, anyway. Being a romantic and sucker for arcane technology, I ordered a new fly rod. Should be ready in six to nine months.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I feel Summer coming

About this time of year the sun starts to stay longer, daylight time kicks in, fruit trees blossom, and I feel Summer coming. Of course, my thoughts turn to trout fishing. Perhaps I will tie some flies and mess with my tackle a bit to hold off an ill-conceived, too early trip to somewhere for marginal Spring fishing in a run-off swollen river.
On a Western Tour trip with my grandsons a couple years ago we stopped for a few days on the Selway River in central Idaho. The water was clear as Absolut, the Westslope Cutthroats were dashing 4 or 5 feet from the bottom to take my Royal Wulff on the surface.

I feel Summer coming.

Nice old guns and hard lessons

I have occasionally acquired what I think are nice old guns. Some would call them classics - A.H. Fox, Lindner-made Charles Daly, John Dickson, Winchester model 21, etc. The design and workmanship is old school, the quality seamless, and they are fine tools for bird hunting.

I have only owned one LeFever, a sidelock 20 gauge in Optimus grade that was GIVEN to me by a friend about 1975. It had belonged to his aunt in Philadelphia. I didn't know much about shotguns in those days, but I recognized that it was a quality gun, and I happily shot it at birds. One day I showed it to the gunsmith at the local gunshop for some reason (unremembered) and he exclaimed that I could not shoot the gun, since despite a nice blue job, it had Damascus (laminated steel) barrels!

Imagine my ignorance. I GAVE the gun away as a wall hanger.

Imagine my chagrin today. I now know that the gun is safe to shoot with the correct loads, and it is worth five figures. 

This is how we learn about old classic guns, and some of the lessons are hard ones.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pet shelter overpopulation - a Boogeyman?

USA Today reports on the importation of thousands of dogs annually to fill the shortages at those 'overcrowded' animal shelters we hear so much about... USA TODAY ARTICLE ... here's an excerpt from the article 

"Pet overpopulation is a misnomer," she [Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance] says. "What we have is a pet distribution problem."

Spay and neutering campaigns
[ed. largely voluntary] have been so successful in much of the USA — especially the Northeast and Northwest — that shelters need to look elsewhere if they want dogs to offer for adoption. But Strand says there is abundance of dogs in other parts of the country such as the South that could make up the difference.

Julie Potter, director of Northeast Animal Shelter, said they take in 800 dogs a year from the South. She said people usually want to adopt younger dogs, so they bring 200 dogs a year from Puerto Rico.

So my question for readers is... do we really have too many animals in shelters, or do the shelters and animal activists simply need to figure out how to get these animals to owners who want them?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Walking Shooting Dog Blog - US Complete NW Region

I have begun a blog for the NW Region of the US Complete Shooting Dog Association. The region includes California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. We will be posting news, trial announcements, results, photos and more on the site... US Complete NW Region

Municipal Experiences with Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws

Where mandatory spay/neuter (MSN) laws have been introduced, they have failed to reduce euthanasia rates, have increased enforcement costs, and have decreased compliance with legally mandated licensing and rabies vaccination compliance:

San Mateo County, California – dog euthanasia rates increased by 126%, dog licenses declined by 35%

Los Angeles City, California – enforcement costs rose 269%, from $6.7 million to $18 million; and compliance to mandatory dog licensing declined

Fort Worth, TX -- ended its mandatory spay/neuter program. Rabies vaccination and licensing compliance declined after passage of the ordinance. This led to an increase in rabies in the city.

Montgomery County, MD – repealed its mandatory spay/neuter law. Euthanasia rates declined more slowly than they had been prior to the mandatory spay/neuter law; licensing compliance declined by 50%

King County, WA -- euthanasia rates fell at a slower rate after mandatory spay/neuter. License compliance has decreased. Animal control expenses have increased 56.8% and revenues only 43.2%

Camden County, NJ -- mandatory spay/neuter ordinance hasn’t stopped it from being called “consistently one of the leading, if not the leading killers of animals in the state of New Jersey” (ref: PAWS NJ)

Aurora, CO – euthanasia and shelter intake rates increased. Licensing compliance dropped dramatically, compliance costs have increased 75% with revenue increasing only 13% in unincorporated areas of the county which are the areas covered by the ordinance.

Compiled and provided by Dr. Charles Hjerpe, Professor Emeritus of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis.