2010 WA Upland Bird Prospects

Well, there’s always planted birds.

WDFW’s district-by-district forecasts for upland bird hunting in Eastern Washington paints a fairly grim picture for wingshooters chasing wild birds this fall.

A wet spring and early summer made a tough go of it for pheasants, quail, partridge and other upland birds trying to bring off clutches. Early broods appear to have fared poorly.

If there’s a highlight, it’s that Huns did well in the Blue Mountains while quail hunting is expected to be “fair to good” in the Columbia Basin.

And if you’re dedicated, you may be able to boot roosters out of the rough stuff down along Crab Creek and elsewhere in Grant County.

JACK WITH A COLUMBIA BASIN LONGTAIL. (JEFF WITKOWSKI)

Last year, the bulk of Washington’s pheasants were shot in Whitman and Grant Counties, quail in Yakima and Grant Counties, chukar in Chelan and Asotin Counties and Huns in Grant County.

Traveling upland bird hunters might head for Idaho’s Snake and Salmon River country, where IDFG reports “chukar counts are higher than they’ve been in years” or Eastern Oregon for California quail up 18 percent from last year to around 5-year average, ODFW says.

But back in Washington, here’s the word, straight from the bios:

FAR EASTERN WASHINGTON

Pheasant: Prospects look poor, relative to last year, with wet spring weather leading to poor chick production. District 2 is almost all private land; hunters will need to takes some time “knocking on doors” to get access to the better sites. The best time of the year to do this is during the winter, or during the early summer before the harvest begins. We will also be releasing game farm produced roosters once again this fall at the traditional release sites, which are mapped on the Go Hunt website — http://wdfw.wa.gov/mapping/gohunt/index.html .

Quail: Prospects look poor, relative to last year, with poor spring weather for broods. Access can be a problem, especially with most of the good quail habitat occurring in and around towns.

Gray Partridge: The prospects this year appear to be the up relative to last year with some good brood numbers seen in Whitman and Lincoln counties.

Chukar: There are very few chukar in District 2, they are predominantly found along the breaks of the Snake River. The population appears to be the same as last year. Terrain is steep and rocky with limited public access.

Forest Grouse: Numbers appear to be down in District 2, but it’s still possible to shoot one opportunistically in the forested portions of the District.

Wild Turkeys: Observations and a few reports indicate that the turkey population is doing very well in GMUs 124-133. It appears that the turkey broods survived the wet spring weather well and thus should be in a good position to take advantage of the forage produced by the wet weather.

BLUE MOUNTAINS

Upland Birds: Weather conditions were extremely wet for the 2010 nesting period. Observations of upland birds to date indicate production for pheasants will be lower than normal. Quail production and brood size appears to be average, however, hun production and brood size appears to be high.

Pheasant: Few pheasant broods have been observed in southeast Washington, which indicates production in 2010 may have been severely impacted by excessive rainfall during the spring nesting season.

Quail: Quail production appears to be average, and brood size is averaging 9.8 young/brood. Hunters should find fair hunting for quail in 2010.

Chukar & Gray Partridge: Few chukar broods have been observed to date, but the few sightings so far indicate chukar production and brood size may be up slightly. Hun production and brood size appears to be up considerably with good nesting success and broods averaging 9.8 young/brood.

Forest Grouse: Forest grouse may have suffered from the extremely wet conditions during the nesting season, as no broods have been observed to date.

CENTRAL COLUMBIA BASIN

Pheasant: Expect similar numbers of wild pheasants as observed during the 2009 season. Most birds likely went into winter in good condition due to early “greenup” of cool season grasses during fall 2009. Winter temperatures were not far from the norm and the area lacked long periods of snow crust that can result in low overwinter survival. Spring conditions however were poor to fair. Cool weather and heavy localized rain events during May and June may have resulted in low brood survival. Most hunters who invest considerable effort and cover a lot of ground will cross paths with a few wild birds and can increase their chances for a productive hunt by selecting non-toxic shot and diversifying the bag with waterfowl. Hunters may also choose to seek out pheasant release sites, see the Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program for details.

The largest wild populations of pheasants in this district are likely to be found within the Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area Complex between Potholes Reservoir and the town of George. Mixed bags of wild and released birds are likely to be had in lower Crab Creek, Gloyd Seeps, and Dry Falls units. For wild birds, dense thickets of Russian olive and cattail associated with Frenchmen and Winchester wasteways and ponds are likely to hold pheasants.

Quail: Quail hunting is expected to be fair to good this year. Most birds likely went into winter in good condition due to early “green-up” of cool season grasses during fall 2009. Winter temperatures were not far from the norm and the area lacked long periods of snow crust that can result in low overwinter survival. Spring conditions however were poor to fair. Cool weather and heavy localized rain events during May and June may have resulted in low brood survival early on but the mid-season and late broods appear to have fared well. Large coveys are difficult to find by mid-season on public lands and successful hunters will attempt to identify multiple coveys to pursue throughout the season. Riparian areas will offer the best hunting and hunters can increase their chances by securing access to private lands where pressure can be considerably lower. If pressure is high, some coveys can be found settling into shrub cover a considerable distance from heavily hunted areas.

Gray Partridge: Gray partridge occur in low densities in the basin but are rarely targeted by hunters, instead taken incidentally while hunting chukar, quail, or pheasant. Most partridge will occur on private farm fields, particularly in the dryland wheat portions of Adams and, to a lesser degree, Grant Counties. Gray partridge are a resilient bird and thus likely fared well through the winter. Winter temperatures were not far from the norm and lacked long periods of snow crust that can result in low survival. Spring conditions however were poor to fair. Cool weather and heavy localized rain events during May and June may have resulted in low brood survival.

Chukar: Most chukar hunting in the Ephrata District occurs in the Coulee Corridor areas from Lake Lenore up to the southern end of Banks Lake. Chukar is a challenging but rewarding game bird to pursue. Most birds likely went into winter in good condition due to early “green-up” of cool season grasses during fall 2009. Winter temperatures were not far from the norm and lacked long periods of snow crust that can result in low overwinter survival. Spring conditions however were poor to fair. Cool weather and heavy localized rain events during May and June may have resulted in low brood survival.

SOUTHERN COLUMBIA BASIN

Pheasant: A warm late winter, dry early spring, and wet late spring makes predictions tough. The mild winter may have contributed to good survival, but the unusual spring precipitation pattern may have contributed to poor nest and brood success. Second nest attempts were likely more successful than first and recent observations of very young broods supports this. Best pheasant habitat in the District is in north Franklin County on and surrounding WDFW’s Windmill Ranch Wildlife Area and the Bailie Memorial Youth Ranch. Both hunting areas have two parking areas with a maximum of 5 vehicles per lot and have Register to Hunt boxes on site. Other habitat areas include the Hanford Reach National Monument’s Ringold Unit, Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge along the Columbia, and the Corp of Engineers Big Flat and Lost Island Habitat Management Units along the Snake River.

Quail: California quail are capable of nesting later into the summer than pheasants and therefore may have been able to take advantage of the late spring primary production. Lots of quail broods are being observed around WDFW wildlife areas. Best quail habitat in District is similar to those listing above for pheasant. In addition, anywhere along the rivers where riparian and herbaceous vegetation intersect will provide quail habitat. An ideal setting is where Russian olives or willows are adjacent to black greasewood or sagebrush.

YAKIMA, KITTITAS COUNTIES

Pheasant: The Yakama Nation conducts standardized surveys each summer. Early surveys indicate that production was below average. Expect lower numbers of wild birds than 2009. Most years about 3800 birds are released in District 8. Sunnyside Wildlife Area receives the majority of birds and over the longest timeframe.

Quail: A very cold spring and early summer eliminated most early broods. Late nesters appear to have done pretty well. Expect lower numbers than 2009.

Gray Partridge: Poor hunting the last 5+ years. Estimated harvest in 2009 was only about 320 birds. Populations probably didn’t rebound much if any in 2010.

Chukar: Populations have been low in recent years, probably due to an extended drought. Decent rain fell during 2010, but cold weather reduced early insect production. There may have been a late hatch, but bird numbers will still be low.

Forest Grouse: Harvest has been very low in recent years, especially in Yakima County. A cold spring and early summer probably had a negative impact on production. Expect poor hunting again.

KLICKITAT COUNTY

Quail: Mild winter conditions reduced winter mortality in 2009-2010. Spring nesting conditions were not favorable in the spring and early summer. Fall hunting prospects should be moderate. Most hunting is located on private lands in eastern Klickitat County, which is dominated by hunt clubs with limited access. Prospective hunters should seek permission in advance of the season to access upland bird hunting areas.

Gray Partridge: Like quail, mild winter conditions reduced winter mortality in 2009-2010. Most hunting is located on private lands in eastern Klickitat County, which is dominated by hunt clubs with limited access. Prospective hunters should seek permission in advance of the season to access upland bird hunting areas.

Chukar: Like quail and partridge, moderate winter conditions reduced winter mortality in 2009- 2010. Local reports indicate poor nesting success and late chucker broods. Most hunting is located on private lands in eastern Klickitat County, which is dominated by hunt clubs with limited access. Prospective hunters should seek permission in advance of the season to access upland bird hunting areas.

Forest Grouse: Grouse numbers should have improved over the past two years but population increases will be moderated by cold wet conditions during the breeding season. Prospective hunters should focus on brushy riparian zones or overgrown abandoned logging roads for the best chance at success.

CHELAN, DOUGLAS COUNTIES

Pheasant: Overall, this seasons’ pheasant numbers should be similar to 2009. The cold wet conditions this spring may have impacted production; however, preliminary observations of broods lead us to believe that similar numbers are out there. Chelan County has very limited pheasant hunting opportunities due to the mountainous terrain and limited suitable habitat. Douglas County provides opportunities primarily on private lands. Look for areas with a mix of cover types and that will support birds. CRP fields, when associated with riparian and agricultural areas, and will attract more birds than large expanses of native sagebrush. In District 7, game-farm raised roosters will be released only on the Chelan Butte Wildlife Area this fall. Birds will not be released on the Swakane Wildlife Area in 2010 due to the loss of cover associated with the recent wildlife. For more information about our Eastern Washington Pheasant Enhancement Program, visit http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/publications/pub.php?id=00884

Quail: Quail numbers have declined over the past few years in both Chelan and Douglas Counties. While observations of late summer brood numbers may be up in some local areas, overall numbers are down compared to the last five years. Focus hunting efforts on areas with brushy cover near a mix of native agriculture and native habitat. Ask landowners for permission to hunt on private lands with good habitat where hunting pressure is regulated.

Gray Partridge: Gray partridge are much less numerous than quail and chukar, especially in Chelan Co. Populations should be comparable to 2009, which means you will have to work to find birds. Look for areas with a mix of grasslands bordering sagebrush or agriculture.

Chukar: Chukar numbers are low compared to what they once were, but good hunting can still be found in localized areas. Reports from late summer indicate that numbers are somewhat higher than 2009, and birds seem to be more concentrated. It will take some time to figure out the areas birds are using, but once located, you should have access to some good hunting. If you hunt the early part of the season you will have fewer hunts to contend with, however, you will have to do more climbing. Snow moves chukars downward in elevation, and that is when hunter pressure picks up.

Forest Grouse: Ruffed grouse, Dusky (Blue) grouse and Spruce grouse are relatively common in Chelan County. Both ruffed and Dusky grouse occur in Douglas County, however, their numbers are relatively low and their distribution localized. Ruffed grouse use mixed and deciduous forests and are often associated with forest edges and openings or riparian areas. Dusky grouse occupy forest habitats at mid elevations in Chelan County; they are the largest of the three species. Spruce grouse are generally found at higher elevations in conifer forests; typically above 4000 feet. Prospects for hunting forest grouse in Chelan County this fall should be similar to 2009.

OKANOGAN COUNTY

Pheasant: Pheasants are at low densities throughout the district with most wild production occurring on private land. Prospective hunters should seek permission in advance of the season to access private land. Prospects may be less than last year due to spring rains affecting chick survival. Game farm produced roosters will once again be released at traditional release sites this fall. These sites are mapped on the Go Hunt website http://wdfw.wa.gov/mapping/gohunt/. Hunters should be reminded that non-toxic shot is required at the Driscoll Island, Hegdahl, and Kline Parcel release sites.

Quail: Informal surveys indicate that quail populations appear to be down this year throughout the district. A mild winter most likely increased adult survival but spring rains appear to have negatively affected early brood productivity. However, later broods appear to be more successful. Quail can be found in brushy habitats at lower elevations throughout the district.

Gray Partridge: Gray Partridge populations appear to be down this year throughout the district. A mild winter most likely increased adult survival but spring rains appear to have negatively affected early brood productivity. However, later broods appear to be more successful. Gray Partridge occur within the shrub steppe habitat throughout the district. However, populations are distributed unevenly.

Chukar: Chukar populations appear to be down this year throughout the district. A mild winter most likely increased adult survival but spring rains appear to have negatively affected early brood productivity. However, later broods appear to be more successful. Chukars are found in the steeper rocky areas throughout the shrub steppe habitats in the district.

Forest Grouse: Blue and Spruce grouse populations continue to remain low within the boundaries of the 175,000 acre Tripod fire which burned in 2006 (GMU 224 and the east side of 218). Outside of the Tripod fire forest grouse prospects should be similar to last year. Spring rains may have negatively affected chick survival in isolated locations.

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