Outdoors: The kick is up, it's no good
Life is a measure of extremes. Last June it stopped raining and did not start again until this spring, and now all it does is rain. Now it has even rained too much in some places. I wonder why with all the rain the Worthington city wells are still not up to snuff?
Wildlife has more than a few weather challenges. My favorite wildlife is the ring neck pheasant and I am aggressively training my one and one-half-year old Labrador to do blind retrieves. Dog training is fun and very satisfying but the frosting on this cake is when a dog does a great job in the field.
Pheasants in Minnesota have never been under more adverse pressure from a weather and habitat perspective and their outlook is absolutely terrible. They have the weather to contend with and winter is a pretty challenging time.
Last winter was an exception and I was very excited about the prospects that our nesting pheasant hen population was very strong due to the mild winter. I figured that hen losses would be down 75 percent from weather-related causes. I was very excited. Pheasants need a break and it showed as 2012 was the worst pheasant season I had since I got my first well-trained dog over 15 years earlier.
I don't know what the official counters say, but I have had a steady decreasing hunting success for the past five years and it's not for lack of trying or days in the field.
It was a great way to enter the 2013 nesting season since the past two years were terrible for pheasant nesting success.
It takes an average of four chicks per brood to survive to adulthood in order to grow and sustain a pheasant population. Peak of the pheasant hatch is June 7th and as of this writing I have not yet seen even one pheasant chick.
My UPS driver has seen only one as of Tuesday and he covers a lot of miles.
So even if the hens make it through the winter, spring nesting conditions need to cooperate as well. This means that there needs to be enough undisturbed grassland habitat to build a nest, incubate a clutch and bring off a hatch. Grassland is at a premium and is disappearing faster than the summer of 2013 which is almost half over and we had only a few nice days.
The one thing that a pheasant chick can't take much of is heavy rain in the first few weeks of their lives. When a chick gets wet it cannot maintain its body temperature and it dies of exposure in short order. I read that a very young pheasant chick, even if it is dry, will die within 30 minutes at 45 degrees.
We have not had any 45-degree nights but get a chick wet and this same mortality will occur at measurable higher temperatures. So all it does is rain and there are no pheasant chicks to be seen. Is there a bright light at the end of this tunnel anywhere?
Pheasant hunters and wildlife lovers can only hope that the cool spring has delayed the overall nesting season and that the pheasant chicks we would normally be seeing three weeks ago have not yet hatched.
This is possible, but the one thing I do know is that not all wildlife does the same thing at the same time. Not all the hens have waited for the weather to improve. If a hen has her nest destroyed before the eggs hatch she will try again.
I think this happened a lot this season as any nest built in low ground was most likely drowned out and maybe even more than once. Each time the hen re-nests the number of eggs laid it reduced. After multiple attempts brood sizes -- even if the hen is successful -- are pretty small.
It the end, it takes a mild winter and better than average spring nesting conditions to have a good pheasant hatch, and these elements have not lined up in southwest Minnesota for quite a few years in a row now. I am by no means a sports nut but I can imagine it is much the same as when in the very last seconds of the final game of the year your team attempts a field goal to win the Super Bowl and they miss the kick.
All of the excitement building up in that very last second and all that's left when it over is a big long sigh.
Hunters experienced a great winter and had high levels of excitement only to have the wind taken out of their sails by a terrible wet spring with heavy rains at exactly the wrong time for a nesting pheasant hen.
Don't get me wrong. I know we needed the rain, but three weeks earlier or three weeks later and not three inches at a time would have done the job for area farmers, and pheasants would have benefited along the way.
All we can hope for is a very late hatch and pheasant numbers better than the current outlook would lead you to believe.
Other pheasant states like North and South Dakota have been doused with at least, if not more, heavy rain. Their outlook is not very bright either.
August roadside counts will get us better estimates on how bad the rains were on nesting pheasants, but the true and only real measure of pheasant nesting success will be how many roosters get flushed by the noses attached to the front end of the black dogs I call Tracer and Axle.