Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sage Grouse article

Sage grouse study aims to keep bird off endangered species list


0  Updated at 12:35 pm, August 26th, 2015 By: Bill Schiess,
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Sage_Grouse01ST. ANTHONY — State and federal researchers have teamed up for a two-year study on the greater sage grouse, which may soon be listed as endangered.
The Idaho Fish and Game Department and the Bureau of Land Management’s study is designed to see what habitat is best for nesting and brooding and overall survival of adult birds.
The possibility of the nation’s largest grouse being on the Endangered Species List looms over users of desert areas in 11 states. The bird being listed could close large portions of sage grouse habitat for all human use, including grazing cattle, drilling for oil and gas, recreation, and travel.
Last spring, north of St. Anthony between the Red Road and the Sand Creek Road, researchers had 40 radios ready to place on the hens. They found it difficult to capture the birds as they gathered on their breeding grounds. The hens, leery of any potential danger from overhead, would not move under the drop nets to be captured.
“We have to do something different as they will not walk under the net,” said a frustrated Eric Anderson, regional habitat biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game. “We have these devices that need to be placed on hens to track them for the next two years before the breeding ends.”
Eventually, with the aid of canon nets, 36 hens were captured and fitted with the tracking devices before nesting began last spring.
The study is funded by the BLM from the fuels program as wildfires have destroyed large tracks of sage grouse habitat. Between State Highway 33 and the Egin/Hamer Road, fires have destroyed or forced birds to abandon seven traditional breeding grounds in the last six years.
“Fires have the greatest impact on the sage grouse of anything we see,” Devin Englestead, a wildlife biologist for the BLM and point-man for the study, said. “We have set up 130 habitat monitoring spots to see what they like the best.”
During the summer tracking program, of the 36 hens with tracking units, 30 attempted to nest, 18 had successful nests; but by the time the chicks could fly, only six hens had at least one chick. Two of the hens were killed by predators, seven of the nests were destroyed by predators and four were abandoned by the hens. Two of the tracking devices failed and one fell off the bird.
“The moralities are about normal with most of the other studies that have been done,” Englestead said. “One of the most interesting things we have found so far is the migration of these hens after their attempt to nest.”
Most of the hens migrated north through Targhee National Forest to the Shotgun Valley near Island Park Reservoir where they have spent most of the summer. But one hen broke the pattern and instead of going north moved south and set up home near Juniper Mountain at the edge of the St. Anthony Sand Dunes.
“The ones that traveled north left days apart but used the same migration route, stopping in pockets of sage in the forest,” Englestead said. “They took only one and a half days to get from their nesting area to where they are now. We don’t know if they flew or walked and hopefully we will find that out in the future.”
With the Idaho Fish and Game Commission setting a six-day, one-bird-per-day season this year, there is some concern about the birds with the electronic devices.
“I would not promote hunting in this area,” Englestead said. “I don’t want our birds shot with the radios on them. But if one gets harvested we need the device returned to us.”
The study will be for at least two years with more hens captured and fitted with tracking equipment next spring.
“We have a lot to learn about sage grouse and their habitat in helping them to survive as a species,” Anderson said.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hiking the R Mountain

Our grandkids that live by us will be starting school on Wednesday and we have tended them every Monday during the summer.  So we asked them what they wanted to do yesterday and they picked climbing the rocks and hiking the "R" Mountain near Rexburg.  We had a great time.

As we started you could see the haze from all the wild fires in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  The air quality is very bad for those with breathing problems.

The trail to the top of the mountain goes through a sagebrush hillside.

These ancient volcanos are made from tuff rock and the weather has shaped many of the rocks on the edge.  We call this figure the "Watch Dog" as it overlooks the lower fields, rivers and sagebrush flats.

The kids love to play on the rock and to crawl over the boulders in other areas.

As we finished the hike, six Red-tailed hawks entertained us as they rode the warm air currents created by the sun striking the rocks. 

Just another day enjoying the wilds of Idaho.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Article on Stinking Springs/Sidewinder hiking trail

I have started writing for an online news source for their outdoor section and each time they run one of my stories, I will link it to my blog.  This also means that I will do more blogging as they would like me to be up-to-date with my other experiences.  I hope you enjoy these articles.

Stinking Springs area during a recent heavy rainstorm.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Spencer, Camas NWR

On Monday I drove to Spencer, Idaho to do research for an article about the fire opals that are found there.  Instead of going on the main roads, I went cross-country and covered two scenic byways, the Fort Henry Historical Byway and the Lost Gold Trails Loop.  My first major sighting was this Belted Kingfisher that had been hit on the bridge crossing the Henrys Fork of the Snake River.

A little farther down the road, I flushed a Great Blue Heron hunting frogs and mice in the tall grass.
Once on the desert any water even the mud puddles attracted birds like this Sage Thrusher and sparrow.

This buck Pronghorn in a pasture on the green grass, but keeping a fence between him and the cattle.
Not far from the pronghorn was this young Red-tailed hawk hunting mice in a meadow.

Once in Spencer, I visited all four shops, interviewing many people.  Spencer fire opal is a precious gem and is found in layers of common opal.  This picture shows the layers of the rock.  The story about the opal, stores and mines should run in the on-line newspaper, the East Idaho News, next week.

One of the stores has a mini-mine where they bring rock and put it in a pile to allow would-be miners to hunt for pieces of opal.  I spent about two hours there and found a few pieces.

On the way home near Dubois, I found this young Burrowing owl hiding behind the sagebrush near a burrow.

My last stop of the day was at Camas National Wildlife Refuge where this White-tailed buck was hiding in the tall grass.  He would only lift his head high enough for me to see his eyes when I whistled at him.
Just another day spent in the wilds of Idaho.