Getting Kids Outdoors

Got this email from Sara Wilson, a lady who I’ve never met, but I think her program deserves attention. Here’s her self-described program and contact info. The Outdoors is good for kids.
Hi again Rich

I sent you a couple of emails over the past few weeks and I wanted to try one last time. As a lover of the great outdoors, I thought this would be an issue that you and the readers of Rich Fletcher’s Blog would care about. The Fresh Air Fund is in need of host families for this summer. Host families are volunteers who open their hearts and home to a child from the city to give them a Fresh Air experience that can change lives. If you could help to get the word out it would really help us place these wonderful children into a loving host family for an experience that can change their life.

I’ve put together a social media news release, so please feel free to use any of the images, graphics, banners, or copy:

We also recently received a tremendous offer by a very generous donor who has pledged to match any gift given dollar-for-dollar during the month of June and today is the last day. I was hoping you could help by posting a mention, tweet, or by putting up one of our banners on your site. Please let me know if you are able to help and if you have any questions.
Sara Wilson,
Twitter @freshairfund

Thank you so much,


Conservation Culture Wars

There’s a war going on. It’s a conservation culture war.  Traditionalists believe hunters and fishermen have been major supporters of wildlife and there is plenty of evidence to support that claim. Those who oppose consumptive uses would like to find a way to supplant that financial underpinning for wildlife habitat.

This is nothing new, but there are other wars going on within the conservation community as well. Within the Federal and State Wildlife agencies there are those who believe in “hands on”government  and those who believe in only government oversight of activities that can better be developed by private enterprize.

This battle is typically between those whose comfort lies with relying on the dominance of a big government run by bureaucrats vs those who work in the private sector and believe in the creativity and efficiency that financial rewards can produce.

One example is the ongoing battle between private sector interests (conservation and mitigation banks) versus Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP), which is a big government venture. These entities are so counter to each other that the USFWS has two competing departments within its organization and the two don’t seem to be able to coexist.

In another arena, it appears that the California Department of Fish and Game is about to extinguish the private sector from managing endowment accounts that private continuous funding for Conservation Banks. Eliminating the private sector and NGO from this industry is misguided. There would certainly be growing pains while private enterprize faces the steep learning curve required to set up these programs, there would also be a big payoff.

The use of private parties and NGOs to hold endowment funding for long-term conservation programs which assure the perpetual existance of many species, would minimize the cost to taxpayers and build a conservation network much larger than we can afford government to become.

Currently, big government seems to be winning the war and private enterprize seems to be waning (in both the large and small arenas), but you never know as politics are volatile . Personally I enjoy freedom derrived from being entrepreneurial and independent. Maybe I’m an endangered species.

Grass Fire

The fire jumped a road and headed east across our property.

Or should I say Wildlands Fire – sounds bigger.

Never had a fire on our property before, before Friday that is.

Wasn’t sure what to think when our leasee called to say we’d been burned out. All the cattle were safe and moved. Ground fried.

Apparently somebody got a little careless at a nearby day use area and ignited the fire.

I decided to make a trip over on Sunday to see for myself. Everything seemed pretty normal, except the ground was black and anything that burned was gone, including a wood pile that we were expecting the haul to the dump – saved us a couple thousand dollars.

A large wood pile was stacked for hauling. This is what was left after the fire.

The leasee was accurate in her evaluation. About 40 acres of grass remained with about 100 acres burned, somewhere between 25 and 35% of the property. And, a five-acre area of wetland  which refused to burn.

All in all, it wasn’t such a bad thing. Here are a few photos.

On the north boundary a main road stopped the fire.

The burrowing owl nest across the street was unscathed.

A collared dove nest seemed to be in tact.

The fire may have raged for a day, but all is quiet now and we are non-the worse off. In fact, you could say it was a net positive.

Good News for a Good Organization

California Waterfowl, America’s largest state waterfowl and wetlands organization, announced today that John Carlson, Jr., has been named as the new President.  Carlson is a lifelong outdoorsman and is widely respected for his passion for and dedication to California’s natural resources.  Carlson will continue to serve as the Fish and Game Commission Executive Director until he officially begins his new position on July 8.  Carlson was selected by the Board of Directors during a North American search to replace Dr. Robert McLandress, who stepped down from the position at the end of 2009.
“John has a unique blend of qualities and experience that make him the ideal leader for California Waterfowl,” explained Bill Wright, Chairman of the Board of Directors, “he is a biologist with a penchant for leadership.  His extensive experience is critical for advancing our mission:  the preservation, protection, and enhancement of California’s waterfowl resources, wetlands, and hunting heritage.”
Carlson is leaving a distinguished career with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), where he dedicated over 21 years to the conservation and management of the state’s fish and wildlife.  He served in several leadership roles, overseeing both game and non-game birds and mammals, and eventually was appointed as Chief of the Wildlife Programs Branch.  In this position, Carlson oversaw all DFG hunting programs, including waterfowl.  In 2006, Carlson’s expertise in biology and policy were recognized, and he was appointed as the Executive Director for the California Fish and Game Commission.
California Fish and Game Commission President, Jim Kellogg, stated, “The Commission’s loss is California Waterfowl’s gain.  I will miss John’s dedication and expertise, but I am pleased he will lead a great conservation organization in achieving its important mission!”
DFG Director, John McCamman, also acknowledged Carlson’s impact.  “This is a significant loss to our Department, and we appreciate his 21 years of service to the people and wildlife of California.  However, I am pleased for California Waterfowl and John and look forward to continuing our work together on issues involving waterfowl, wetlands, and our hunting heritage.”
Carlson was born in Illinois and began hunting pheasants and ducks with his father as soon as he was strong enough to carry a shotgun.  He moved to California in 1981 to work and pursue a degree in Wildlife Management at Humboldt State University.  Upon graduating in 1987, he landed a job with California Waterfowl leading a mallard nesting study at Honey Lake and Ash Creek Wildlife Areas in northeastern California.
“California Waterfowl’s cooperative research with DFG on nesting mallards starting in 1985 was innovative and inspiring and it started my sincere appreciation of the Association’s important role in California,” recounts Carlson.  “Back in those days our state was largely recognized primarily as a wintering area.  The results from those studies clearly showed that California produced many of its own mallards.”
Carlson’s interest in nesting waterfowl inspired him to attend graduate school at Iowa State University.  He studied pintail in the heart of the Prairie Pothole region with leading scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  His resulting Master’s thesis was one of the first attempts to use computers to model breeding pintail.
“I am honored and humbled to be given this great opportunity to join the California Waterfowl team.  In addition, I am really looking forward to being able to focus my efforts on waterfowl and wetlands conservation and hunting heritage issues once again,” admits Carlson, “especially alongside the dedicated members, volunteers, staff, and partners of California Waterfowl.”

Hyenas at Kruger National Park

Once you find a hyena den, you’re going to get some action as the den will house adults, sub-adults and also the very young. The adults share the duty and watch over each other’s young.

Hyenas share baby sitting duties amongst the pack.

 Watch this video as a young hyena follows a Francolin grouse past our Land Rover.

What’s a Duck Club Worth?

The value of a duck club is as subjective as any real estate evaluation on earth.

You never own the ducks.

An appraiser would look at duck club sales and compare the price, annual operating costs, taxes and acreage to come up with a value.

A few days ago I got a call from a duck hunter who was evaluating a duck club offering in the delta. He’d checked out my blog and decided that it would be worth his time to give me a call.

He gave me the salient facts. 1,000 acre club, ten partners, $2,500 per acre price for land under a wetlands reserve easement. 100 acre closed area, 7 days per week shooting, $40 per acre per year reclamation fees and a club house that he didn’t intend to use.

He then asked if I thought it would be a good purchase.

This is where things get dicey. Was he a hard-core duck hunter who appreciated quality time in the marsh? Or, was he a trophy duck-club owner who mainly wanted to impress acquaintances with his duck club address?

I assumed he was the former, not the later and told him that the price sounded OK if he could afford it. He said he could and sounded as if he was ready to move on it.

For sake of discussion, my clarity and your benefit, let me review the purchase. It may be helpful down the road to take a closer look at his purchase.

The price was straight forward – $250,000 for 1/10th share of 1,000 acres.

The fixed annual fees are pretty easy to estimate. Reclamation – $4000. Taxes – $2,500. If he’s borrowing the money, he should figure an annual interest cost of about $5,000 – $7,500 per $100,000 borrowed depending upon his borrowing rate. Most duck club buyers either pay cash for this type of property, or the seller provides financing.

Let’s assume he pays cash. That means he’s out at least $6,500 per year. But that’s not the end of the story. Duck clubs have other costs associated with operations. Insurance for one and that can vary depending upon the owners and the type of ownership entity.

A duck club should have an operating entity that creates an annual budget, pays bills and takes care of business. Somebody will be in charge and that person will probably want to be paid. Usually these fees are not large, but in this case I would estimate that the individual managing this club will want at least $200 per month. The insurance will probably be $1,000 per year. That adds up to another $340 per partner. Add in electricity and we can call it $400 per partner.

Duck clubs need to be maintained. That means they must be mowed, plowed and or sprayed. To plow the club one time around may cost $10 per acre – just a guess. Therefore I would estimate that the annual cost of maintaining the ponds would be about double that or $2,000 per share – including irrigation management, water control maintenance etc.

That puts the annual cost at about $9,000 for each owner. You can add to that a few other costs personal in nature.

The good news is the only time a buyer evaluates the cost of a duck club is when he’s making the decision to purchase. Once you own a club, you will just blindly pay until you either die, go broke, quit hunting or decide to purchase a new club.

It’s easy to divide up the cost of ownership. The tricky part of a duck club purchase is dividing up the hunting. That depends upon the individual member’s allowance of time, flexibility and desire.

A scenario that includes hunting every day tends to create a problem that’s hard to resolve –  competition between owners.

Having a system to give each owner a fair chance to enjoy the benefits of ownership is as critical to the success of a duck club as the availability of water.

Dugga Boys at Kruger National Park, South Africa


Here's a cape buffalo bull called a dugga boy.

As we toured Kruger National Park during our 2007 visit, cape buffalo were uncommon, but we did encounter them on a couple of occasions. Both times we found dugga boys. Here’s a video clip of one encounter.

On another day, we were dropped off about a mile from camp and walked in with our guide who carried a large-caliber rifle just in case. As we passed through an opening in the bush we came upon a dugga boy standing about 30 yards from us. He didn’t seem to care about us, but the guide scooted us away.

During the remainder of the walk we were extra cautious.


California Burrowing Owls

Drove over to a new conservation property yesterday to take a look around and spotted one of many special status species that will be protected. Years ago we used to routinely see these critters at the local golf course, but over time their habitat has dwindled.

Once the golf course managers poisoned the ground squirrels the owls disappeared from that spot, but they’re still  in the neighborhood. The best place to find them is on heavily grazed grassland. Their eyesight seems to be their best defense mechanism and they thrive on open pastures where the young can dive into their burrow and the adults can fly for protection.

The burrowing owl depends upon the California ground squirrel to create its burrow.

Apparently a pair of owls was breeding at this site.

You often find the owls near home sites and small pastures where grazing is heavy.

Like many others, this burrowing owl lives near a residence.

Because the burrowing owl hunts during the day, they are typically more visible than other owl species. Often the adults are somewhat approachable.

Sometimes You Need Some Luck

Saturday morning Aug 17, 2000 the opening morning of the CA x-12 deer season.

Rob and I had drawn archery tags for the unit and planned to hunt just west of the Nevada border near Lobdale Reservoir, known for it’s population of grayling trout.

We set up camp about two miles east of the reservoir along Desert Creek’s north fork. Camp was basic, sleeping pads, cook stove and a couple of camp chairs for relaxing. 

On the first morning I chose to hunt high and Rob picked the desert to the North. After parking the ATV at an elevation of 10,000 feet, I almost immediately ran into a bachelor band of bucks feeding on an open ridge loaded with snowberry bushes. I tried an ambush which failed when the deer changed course and laid down in the sage. Temporarily I lost track of them and then found them again when they stood and joined up with a group of does. 

The seven deer consisted of four bucks and three does. The biggest buck was a 3×3 (about 22” wide) followed closely by a 4×4 (also about 22” wide), a 4×3 (about 18” wide) and a small forked horn. 

The deer meandered across the draw and eventually disappeared. I knew it would be a while before the bucks would bed, so I took advantage of the opportunity to glass for other deer. I moved up the ridge and glassed an open hillside across the canyon. 

Several does waited patiently to check their back trail before calling to their fawns, which had been hiding safely in the mountain mahogany. The four bucks reappeared as they climbed into view across the canyon. They reached a plateau and began milling about in preparation for bedding. It was now about 9:00 AM and the sun was beginning to force the issue – or so it seemed. The spot where they were apparently about to bed  was nearly unreachable by a human with bow and arrow, so I re-focused my glassing in search of attainable bucks. 

I moved into the shade of a patch of white pine and took note of a bench across the canyon, a spot that appeared to be perfect for big-buck bedding. The four bucks reappeared and left the plateau that could have been their fortress. They crossed  a small creek and began their ascent to the bench I had been watching. As the sun rose to a scorching overhead position, the four bucks bedded under mountain mahogany bushes on the bench. 

I considered the stalk – it would be a gruesome climb. Steep, hot and through brush. It was still early in the day and the bucks should remain bedded on that bench until late afternoon, if left undisturbed, so I headed back to the ATV and camp. I wasn’t confident that I could climb that mountain and approach the bucks undetected. Personal conditioning and wind direction were major concerns. 

Back at camp, Rob reported that he had spotted a very good buck and was planning to stalk a mountain mahogany patch out in the desert. I reported my findings and uneasiness about attempting a stalk. Rob attempted to encourage me, but it didn’t help. I ate lunch and returned to the hillside, still uncommitted to a stalk. 

Glassing the bench once again, I made a final decision to pass on the opportunity. I didn’t have “legs” for the stalk and the inconsistent wind sealed my decision. The bucks eventually rose and trotted off the bench, disappearing from my view. 

On day two, I chose to glass the open desert floor at about nine thousand feet in elevation, near the area where Rob had spotted the big buck on opening day. No deer materialized in the low ground so I headed back up the mountain for day three, with plans to check out a new area adjacent to the mountain where the four bucks lived. On my way, I once again came across the 3×4 and forked horn bucks, but not the two larger bucks. 

Once I arrived at the area I wanted to explore, I realized that it wasn’t the honey hole that I’d been looking for. Retracing my steps, I set up to glass the popular bench where the bucks had bedded on opening day. At 10:00 AM, the bench was visible, but no bucks were present. 

I decided to hike back to the ATV. After crossing the canyon and ascending the opposite slope, I raised my field glasses to check the bench one last time before departing. To my surprise, two bucks, a 3×3 and a 4×4 lay beneath the mahogany bush on the bench. It looked like the 4×4  and 3×3 I’d seen two days previously. I felt that I must try for them. From my new vantage point, I could see an easier route to the bench, a route that had not been visible to me the previous day,  but the wind was still uncertain.
After debating the wind direction while watching soaring red tailed hawks and considering other evidence available, I chose the down-canyon approach, but still feared that swirling wind would give me away. About 1:00 PM I began my assent. 

I took my time and rested periodically. I’d already covered a lot of ground this day. The steep slope and my poor conditioning made the climb challenging, but the slow pace and rest stops kept me going. By mid afternoon I was in position, 20 yards from the buck’s bed with two antler tines from the four-point buck in view above the top of the mahogany bush. I waited for the buck to stand. 

Fearing that he would spot me immediately, I planned to draw the bow at the first hint that he was standing. A half hour passed, then another and I remained ready. Eventually the horn tip shifted and I drew. False alarm. A few minutes later, the horn tips tilted again and as I drew the 65#  Jennings compound to full draw  – the buck rose. 

To my surprise, it was not the same 4×4 I had seen two days earlier. This buck was much wider, with considerable antler outside his ears, but it was a quick study. 

Holding at full draw, I considered a shot as the buck starred in my direction, quartering toward me. He had seen my movement. Within seconds he stotted off the bench and down the mountain. The shot offered had not been adequate.

But, I had seen two bucks so I remained motionless and waited for the 3-point. A few more minutes passed. The 3-point appeared from behind a different mahogany bush at about 50 yards.

He was feeding and appeared calm. I put my rangefinder on him – 54 yards – a little further than I cared to shoot. As his head disappeared behind a bush I began my sneak.

My very first step revealed another problem. Another buck, the original 4×4 that I’d seen on opening day, stood looking my direction. I couldn’t move closer. I remained motionless, unsure what the buck would do. Would he bolt and ruin any remaining chances?

The wind blew so hard that the extra length of webbing on my belt strap began to slap against my leg. I worried that they’d hear it.

Eventually the smaller 4×4 calmed down and began feeding away from me. But, in response to the bucks attitude, the 3 point buck was now acting nervous and began to stare in my direction. I decided to take the next available shot at the slightly larger buck.

When he began to reach down for something to eat and flicked his tail, I knocked an arrow, drew and released. The buck hunched up, kicked his hind legs and ran in my direction. As he passed, I attempted to knock another arrow and get a shot off as he slowed, but there wasn’t quite enough time before he stepped out of sight heading down hill – obviously hit.

I became quite anxious. I wasn’t sure where the arrow had struck, but after retrieving the arrow, I was certain of very good penetration.

I gathered my thoughts and waited a few minutes – then I carefully sneaked over the hill and found blood – a good trail. After following the blood drops for about 60 yards, I came upon the buck, laying in the trail, head up and looking down the hill that lay before him – apparently still unaware of what had taken place.

I waited as patiently as I could, hoping the buck would expire.

Feeling pain from the climbing and stress from the uncertainty of the situation, I sat down to wait – only 20 yards from the buck. I couldn’t see the buck’s body so another shot was out of the question. Instinct told me that the buck was probably mortally wounded, but I couldn’t be sure yet.

After about ten or fifteen minutes, I stood to verify the condition of the buck – he was gone. Searching the hillside, I relocated him about 50 yards down hill in a different patch of brush. Once again only his antlers, head and back were visible. I decided to attempt a shot at the neck of the buck.

From 20 yards, I was comfortable that I could hit the target, but would the arrow do the job? I drew and aimed at the base of the buck’s neck. At the release, the arrow glanced off the buck and he took off running down the hill for about 100 yards. Then he stopped and laid down in full view. Now I could see the wound. It appeared to be a liver shot. The arrow had entered the chest cavity about four inches behind the heart, but apparently no major blood vessels had been severed.

I decided to play the waiting game once again. I sat and watched with the buck looking in my direction. Several times he laid his head down and I thought it might be over, but each time he would raise his head back up.

Finally I started thinking about the time of day, I was running out of time. I needed to end this before sunset. Approaching the buck again, I ranged him at 50 yards. With vitals exposed, I wanted to reach 40 yards before I took the killing shot. At 40 yards I began to draw my bow and the buck bolted again – stopping in a small aspen patch about 50 yards further down the hill.

I walked slowly up to the deer. It was not the best shot, but I did have an angle at his chest. Desperate to put this all to an end, I drew and took the best shot I could. As the arrow penetrated deeply, the buck ran down the hill at full speed and disappeared out of sight. I ran to a vantage point, too late. He was out of sight.

I quickly picked up his trail and recovered the bloody arrow, complete penetration. A few drops of blood were splattered on snowberry bushes and sage, but after 20 more yards, the trail evaporated.

Downcast, and tired, I didn’t have the patience to search for the tiny drops of blood, but I felt certain that I could find the buck by checking the most likely spots for him to bed down. With about an hour left until dark, I felt an urge to hurry.

I searched up the canyon and down, across the sage flat and in the nearby aspen patch. Where had he gone? The sun was setting on my chances of recovering the buck in an edible condition.

I was doomed. Mentally and physically exhausted I climbed out of the canyon, not believing I could have come so close with such a bad outcome. I figured I’d recover the buck in the morning, but next-day recoveries are generally horns only. Laying out all night with intestines in place produces unpalatable venison.

Arriving in camp near 10:30 PM, I related the story to Rob. He volunteered to help in the morning.

Shortly after first light, Rob and I began to scour the buck’s trail, this time, with assistance, my reading glasses and a good night’s rest.

One drop at a time, I trailed the buck 200 yards across the sagebrush flat and into the draw where the small spring creek disappeared. Rob found blood on rocks along the edge of the creek and in the willows. It wasn’t long before Rob announced he’d found the buck.

A nice 3x3 buck taken with archery equipment in 2000.

Good news. He had fallen into the creek and had been covered by ice-cold mountain spring water all night. The meat was saved and so was my attitude. It didn’t take up long to complete a photo session, bone out the meat and load the bounty into my backpack for the mile-long hike back to the ATV. The hunt had been validated.

California Tiger Salamander Larvae

We repaired the dam on this pond last fall.

Last weekend we checked out one of our ponds in search of California Tiger Salamander (CTS) larvae. The pond has all the qualities we look for in a CTS pond. One key is that it’s on a south-facing slope that gets lots of sun, warming the water generating lots of CTS prey. Tadpoles are in good supply and so are the CTS this year.

CTS larvae were suspended about one to two feet under the water surface. The water was relatively clear and many of the CTS were close enough to the surface to allow photographing. This is usually not the case as muddy water and weeds often hide the larvae from view.

The larvae generally stay at depths that provide protection from predators.

A few of the larvae cruised near the surface.

This larvae is about four inches long and it appears that it will be morphing into an adult pretty soon.

As the larvae get closer to leaving the pond, they breathe air and come to the surface to gulp. I caught one in the act.

CTS larvae gulp air as they begin to morph into adults.

Since protecting CTS is one of our objectives, it was satisfying to see so many CTS surviving to reach this near-adult stage.