Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013 Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock Season Forecasts


“We had a lot of grouse on the ground in the spring,” noted Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Biologist Kelsey Sullivan, and the statewide woodcock survey revealed woodcock numbers were unchanged from recent years. May had higher than average rainfall. The negative effects on woodcock nesting and brood production were evident during annual brood surveys in central and eastern Maine, according to U.S. Geological Survey Research Biologist Dan McAuley. Overall, Sullivan expects average fall grouse and woodcock populations, with above-average numbers of grouse in the North Woods.

Department of Natural Resources Upland Game Bird Specialist and Program Leader Al Stewart reports, ruffed grouse drumming counts were conducted statewide along 95 survey routes during April and May 2013. Using data from 87 routes run in both 2012 and 2013, statewide there was a 10.3 percent decrease in the average number of drums heard per route between 2012 (11.8) and 2013 (10.6). Highest drumming counts were in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula; 14.5), followed by Zone 2 (northern Lower Peninsula; 9.4) and Zone 3 (southern Lower Peninsula; 6.4).

Analysis at the regional scale indicated there was nearly a significant difference (n=26; t=2.0, P=0.4) in the number of drums heard per route in Zone 1 (Upper Peninsula) between 2012 (17.4) and 2013 (14.9).  There was no significant change (n=52; t=2, P=0.4) in the average number of drums heard per route in Zone 2 (Northern Lower Peninsula) between 2012 (9.9) and 2013 (9.1).  In Zone 3, there were eight routes conducted in both 2012 and 2013.  Due to the low sample size, statistical analysis at the Zone 3 regional scale is not appropriate.

Grouse/woodcock hunter cooperators hunting the first four days of ruffed grouse season reported an average of 1.7 grouse per hour in 2012 compared to 2.0 grouse per hour in 2011. Hunters opinions about the 2012  ruffed grouse population were mixed; 27 percent of the respondents thought grouse populations were up or slightly up from 2011 in the areas they hunted, with 41 percent reporting the population is the same and 32 percent reported they were down or slightly down.  For the full season, the average number of ruffed grouse flushed per hour by cooperators in 2012 (1.66) was slightly lower than the number of birds flushed per hour in 2011 (1.91).  The average number of woodcock flushed per hour statewide by cooperators was slightly higher between 2012 (1.57) and 2011 (1.2).

Stewart concludes, “Based on current survey data, I expect the grouse population this fall will be on a slight decline following the peak of the cycle in 2011.  The 2013 fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar if not a little bit lower statewide compared to 2012.  With favorable annual production, hunters could take approximately 240,000 grouse and 74,000 woodcock in 2013.  Although spring arrived two weeks later than normal; the warm, average weather conditions this year may have a positive impact on brood survival.  If we have favorable production this spring, I anticipate fall ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers could be similar to or only down slightly from last year. Due to normal rainfall and lack of early summer frosts, I expect soft mast production to be very good this fall compared to 2012.”

The ruffed grouse season begins on September 15, statewide.*  In 2013, the opening date for woodcock hunting will be September 21.*  The USFWS framework for Michigan allows for the woodcock hunting season to open no earlier than the Saturday closest to September 22 and to run for no more than 45 days.

Are you looking for new places to hunt grouse and woodcock?  Stewart invites hunters to explore the 10-million acres of public land in Michigan. You can plan your next hunting adventure online with Mi-HUNT. This DNR hunting tool allows people to search for grouse and woodcock habitat on public hunting lands. “Bird hunters have found this tool to be very helpful for viewing different forest types, topography, satellite imagery and road layers…all from the comfort of their own home”, said Stewart.  “There’s even a tutorial designed for grouse hunters.”  To learn more about this free interactive mapping application, visit www.michigan.gov/mihunt for details.

Courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - Ruffed grouse drumming counts were down across most of the bird’s range, according to the annual survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This decrease was not unexpected because the ruffed grouse population is still in the declining phase of its 10-year cycle,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse biologist. “Drum counts peaked most recently in 2009.”

Drumming counts dropped from 1.1 to 0.9 per stop in the northeast, which is the forest bird’s core range in Minnesota. Counts in the northwest declined from 0.9 in 2012 to 0.7 drums per stop in 2013. Drumming counts did not change significantly in the central hardwoods or southeast, with an average of 0.9 and 0.4 drums per stop, respectively.

Ruffed grouse populations, which tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions. Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population.

This year, observers recorded 0.9 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2011 and 2012 were 1.7 and 1.0 drums per stop, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.8 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 1.9 during years of high abundance.

The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer. Drumming did occur later this year because of the late spring, suggesting that nesting likely occurred later than normal.

“Later nesting would have pushed the hatch out a bit, hopefully beyond the spring rains,” Roy said. “Time will tell if that occurred and the impact on production.”

Minnesota has an abundance of aspen and other ruffed grouse habitat in the state, much of it located on county, state and national forests where public hunting is allowed. An estimated 11.5 million of the state’s 16.3 million acres of forest are grouse habitat. For more information, see www.mndnr.gov.

Brian Dhuey, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wildlife researcher reported, “Statewide ruffed grouse population indices decreased 9 percent between 2012 and 2013, based on the number of drumming grouse heard during roadside surveys. Changes in indices to breeding grouse populations varied by region, and the statewide mean number of drums/stop was not significant (P= 0.58) from 2012 to 2013. Drummer densities on the two research areas, the Sandhill Wildlife Area in Wood County and the Stone Lake Experimental Area in Oneida County were mixed, Stone Lake showed an increase of 2 percent and Sandhill a decrease of 5 percent from 2012 levels.”

Dhuey also stated, “This is the second decrease in the ruffed grouse indices since 2011. Survey indices show a decrease in drumming grouse in three of the four regions of the state.  Despite the decrease in breeding grouse in the spring of 2012, brood production in the summer of 2012 was 17 percent higher than in 2011. This unfortunately did not translate into more breeding grouse in the spring of 2013. Wisconsin’s primary grouse range, the Central and Northern Forest Regions, showed mixed results. The Central Forest had a decrease in breeding grouse of 18.1 percent this spring, while the Northern Forest had a small increase of 1.6 percent.”

A long winter with snow still present in late April in northern Wisconsin delayed the ruffed grouse breeding season.  Nesting began 10 days to 2 weeks later than usual in the region with most broods starting to appear during the second week of June. Unfortunately the cool, wet spring continued during this period that most likely will impact fall populations.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service woodcock singing ground surveys from 2012 were up 2.1 percent from 2012 numbers for Wisconsin with 3.01 singing males heard per survey route.   This is the sixth consecutive spring that showed increases in singing males in the state.  The late arrival of spring also negatively affected breeding woodcock with heavy snow falling across most of the state in late April.
As for the 2013 Wisconsin hunting season, at this time it appears both ruffed grouse and woodcock numbers likely will be down when compared to last year.

*References to season dates or regulations are as provided by our correspondents and should be verified on that state’s official website or published materials.

Visit the RGS website for the full report

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