Friday, September 17, 2004

Magic Valley?s birds abound

Upland game bird hunting season looking great

A covey of California quail scurries along the banks of Magic Reservoir, 35 miles south of Ketchum, on the Big Wood River. Photo by Willy Cook

Idaho Fish and Game

JEROME ? Warm and dry weather during the hatch and frequent, localized, storms during July and August have helped produce a good crop of upland game birds in the Magic Valley Region.

?2003 was one of the best bird hunting seasons in many years,? said Randy Smith, Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Manager. ?2004 is shaping up to be another good one and all bird species are either up or stable compared to the 10-year average.?

Bird hunters will be able reap the benefits this weekend with many of the bird seasons opening.

Here is the forecast and season dates for many of the game birds in the region.

· Sage grouse: Area 2 (south of Snake River), Sept. 18 through Sept. 24; Daily bag limit: 1, Possession limit after first day: 2.

Area 3: (north of Snake River) Sept. 18 through Oct. 10; Daily bag limit: 2; Possession limit after first day: 4.

Sage grouse populations in the Magic Valley have had an increasing trend over the past 10 years. Dancing grounds surveys suggest grouse populations have roughly doubled since 1994. Sage grouse hunting last year (2003) was the best in many years. In 2003, the Magic Valley Region accounted for 41 percent of Idaho?s sage grouse hunters and harvest. Research data suggest average nesting success this year. Hunting is expected to be good and similar to last year.

· Chukar: Area 3, Sept. 18 through Dec. 31; Daily bag limit: 8; Possession limit after first day: 16.

2002 and 2003 were a couple of the best chukar seasons in the Magic Valley in recent memory. 2004 is stacking up to be another great year. August 2004 surveys at Brownlee Reservoir revealed the highest chukar density in the past 20 years. Field reports indicate very good chukar numbers in the Bruneau, and Jarbidge canyons. Hunting prospects in northern Nevada are also good this year.

· Gray partridge: Sept. 18 through Dec. 31; Daily bag limit: 8; Possession limit after first day: 16.

Hun numbers should be relatively unchanged from last year, although field reports have varied. August surveys indicate average gray partridge numbers in the intensively farmed portions of the region; similar to the 10-year average (0.13 birds per mile). In the foothill and sagebrush areas, some reports have indicated large covey sizes.

· California quail: Area 3, Sept. 18 through Dec. 31; Area 2, daily bag limit: 10 of any kind; Possession limit after first day: 20 of any kind.

Reports have been mixed but large covey sizes are being reported near the Snake River from Buhl to Hagerman. In the Magic Valley, quail numbers are highest along the Snake River and its tributaries west of Twin Falls.

· Sharp-tailed grouse: Area 2, Oct. 1 through Oct. 31; Daily bag limit: 2; Possession limit after first day: 4.

Sharp-tailed grouse declined in the Rockland and Curlew valleys in 2001 and 2002 but have trended upward during the past two years. Field reports suggest only a fair hatch this year. While sharp-tail numbers will not be as high as during the late 1990s, hunters can expect to find a few more birds than in 2001 and 2002. Drought conditions and maturing CRP habitat is resulting in localized early movements of sharpies up into mountain shrub communities and to areas where green forbs can still be found.

· Pheasants: Area 2, Minidoka and Cassia counties east, Oct. 16 to Nov. 30; Area 3, remainder of Southwest Idaho, Oct. 16 to Dec. 31; Daily bag limit: 3 cocks; Possession limit after first day: 6 cocks.

Region-wide pheasant numbers are down from the welcome spike in numbers we enjoyed in 2003. The local alfalfa harvest is deadly to nesting hens and alternate nesting cover in some areas is in short supply. The number of pheasants observed on August 2004 surveys (0.22 birds per mile) was lower than last year (0.31 birds per mile) and similar to the 10-year average (0.25 birds per mile). The highest pheasant numbers were observed in eastern Jerome and Minidoka counties. Pheasant stocking will continue at Niagara Springs WMA and at several Wildlife Tracts north of Paul.

· Ruffed, blue grouse: Sept. 1 through Dec. 31; Daily bag limit: 4 in aggregate; Possession limit after first day: 8.

Early reports from hunters in the South Hills and the Sublett Mountains indicate relatively low numbers of ruffed grouse. Hunters should look for birds in aspen and mountain shrub habitats near water.

Blue grouse hunting on the north side of Magic Valley Region was very good in 2001, 2002, and 2003. This fall, reports from hunters have been mixed but generally hunting has been good in the Smoky, Soldier, Pioneer, and Boulder mountains.

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