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Ruffed grouse drumming counts indicate population remains near peak of 10-year cycle

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outdoors Bemidji,Minnesota 56619 http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/sites/all/themes/bemidjipioneer_theme/images/social_default_image.png
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Ruffed grouse drumming counts indicate population remains near peak of 10-year cycle
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Each spring DNR officials and volunteers travel throughout the state's ruffed grouse range listening for the sounds of the season.

And this year the sounds emanated from every direction.

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Minnesota's grouse population trends are calculated, at least in part, by the number of drums that are heard during the annual 10-mile rides through the grouse range. Identical routes are followed each year and after each mile the survey crews stop their vehicles and listen for four minutes.

Based on recent population figures and the positive position within the 10-year population cycle, DNR officials expected to be kept busy this spring recording the drums. And those expectations were met.

Statewide, the listeners heard an average of 1.7 drums per stop. In 2009 the figure was 2.0 and last spring the average was 1.5 drums per stop.

In the Northeast region this year's figure was 1.9, an increase of 18 percent from 2010. The counters in the Northwest region recorded 2.1 drums per stop this spring, a figure which represents a 16 percent increase from the 1.9 drums in 2010.

The Bemidji area is located within the cusp of the Northwest and Northeast regions in terms of the grouse survey.

Area DNR Wildlife assistant supervisor Blane Klemek conducts two local drumming route surveys each spring and, even though he expected a favorable report, he was surprised by the results.

"My first route is in the Pennington area and last year I heard seven drumming males during the 10 miles," Klemek said. "But this year I recorded 24 drums. The other route is near Buena Vista and I went from four drums over the 10 miles to 17.

"Statewide the increases may not be statistically significant but my two routes increased 273 percent and that is huge. I think my results are statistically significant," Klemek added.

A number of factors probably influenced this spring's Bemidji area drumming count increase and among them would be ideal weather conditions on the day of the survey.

"If it is rainy or windy you don't do the route," Klemek said. "You try to pick a calm morning and you want to be on the route by sun-up. And this year I had the best survey conditions you could possibly have.

"I did expect to hear as many birds as last year but I didn't expect to have this significant an increase," Klemek said.

Rob Rabasco, the Park Rapids Area DNR Assistant Wildlife Supervisor, conducts four drumming count surveys. During three of this spring's routes he encountered favorable weather but during the fourth the weather was not conducive to grouse activity.

And his data reflected the conditions.

"On three of the four routes my numbers were similar to last year," Rabasco said. "But the fourth was an aberration caused by the weather."

The odd ball was the route between Park Rapids and Itasca State Park. A year ago Rabasco heard 20 drums but this spring he heard only three.

The drums on his Dorset route increased from 11 in 2010 to 17 this spring while the 23 drums on this year's Nimrod route were identical to last year's.

In Huntersville there was a slight drop from 17 last year to 13 this spring.

High drumming counts do not always translate into birds in the bag during the fall hunting season, especially when rain and cold are part of the spring weather scene.

"The jury is still out as to how much effect the weather will have on the grouse population," Klemek said. "With November in April and the constant rain, this has not been an ideal spring. Based on the drumming counts and the number of adult birds that seem to be out there, you could make the leap to a good year for grouse hunting. But so much depends upon the weather."

Rabasco believes that, if the fall weather cooperates, hunters could experience a successful season.

"We are going into the third year of high grouse numbers," he said. "The winter wasn't too tough for the grouse and there was good snow roosting cover. I think the adults came through the winter in good shape."

For the second straight year Minnesota's sharp-tailed grouse population experienced a slight drop.

In 2009 observers recorded an average of 13.6 sharp-tails per lek. A year ago the figure was 10.7 and this spring it dipped to 10.2.

Klemek surveys 12 leks in the Bemidji area and this spring they averaged 13.5 birds per lek. Most of the leks are located in northern Beltrami County but two of them are in Clearwater County.

"We visit the leks at least twice and sometimes a lek or two may be visited three or four times," Klemek said. "We will submit our best count of each lek (to DNR officials) and by best count I mean the one where we are best able to count the total males and the total females."

A year ago the Bemidji area leks averaged 14.7 birds.

"I would say our sharp-tail population is stable," Klemek said.

Statewide this year's 10.2 bird average is similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 13.6 average in 2009 was the highest of any year since 1980.

Sharp-tail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. DNR officials, statewide and locally, have initiated projects to reverse that trend and help create sharp-tail habitat.

"We have brushland project proposals and prescribed burns that are awaiting funding," Klemek said. "We are hoping to complete more projects in our area that will benefit the open landscape species such as sharpies."

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

For the second straight year Minnesota's sharp-tailed grouse population experienced a slight drop.

In 2009 observers recorded an average of 13.6 sharp-tails per lek. A year ago the figure was 10.7 and this spring it dipped to 10.2.

Klemek surveys 12 leks in the Bemidji area and this spring they averaged 13.5 birds per lek. Most of the leks are located in northern Beltrami County but two of them are in Clearwater County.

"We visit the leks at least twice and sometimes a lek or two may be visited three or four times," Klemek said. "We will submit our best count of each lek (to DNR officials) and by best count I mean the one where we are best able to count the total males and the total females."

A year ago the Bemidji area leks averaged 14.7 birds.

"I would say our sharp-tail population is stable," Klemek said.

Statewide this year's 10.2 bird average is similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 13.6 average in 2009 was the highest of any year since 1980.

Sharp-tail populations appear to have declined over the long term as a result of habitat deterioration. DNR officials, statewide and locally, have initiated projects to reverse that trend and help create sharp-tail habitat.

"We have brushland project proposals and prescribed burns that are awaiting funding," Klemek said. "We are hoping to complete more projects in our area that will benefit the open landscape species such as sharpies."

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

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Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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