Revisiting “A Sand County Almanac”

Read A Sand County Almanac for the first time about 32 years ago.

At that time I read it as a hunter, looking specifically for information that would be of value to me as a hunter. I shared the hunter’s lifestyle with Aldo Leopold and wanted to learn more about his philosophy.

I gleaned from the book what I wanted to find and that was it. For years I’ve considered re-reading the book and kept it on my book shelf. It is in very good condition, except for my recent dog ears.

img_6607 a sand county almanac

This time, I read this book as a conservationist and it had much more meaning. Now I have more in common with Aldo Leopold (especially at his age at the time he wrote the book) than I did 32 years ago.

Now I understand why his book was so full of meaning and why it is appropriately called a “classic of conservation” by many people.

Leopold’s views on wilderness, land use and recreation are expressed in great detail in the book. He was spot on.

I’m sure I’ll be reading it again, and again.

Highly recommended.

Ranch Visit, Spring Maintainance

We’re considering doing some significant work on a key spring at the ranch. The project will include installing a new spring box and a couple of modern troughs. Of the two troughs currently in place, one doesn’t work at all and the other won’t last too much longer. This work will insure a longer life for the spring and help spread the grazing more evenly.

This trough is working, but we'd like to install a new concrete trough.

The project should qualify for matching funds under the Farm Program. We’ll know for sure once the plans have been finalized and approved. The spring currently has no spring box, just gravel and a pipe. The second trough will be installed down the hill a few hundred yards. There’s plenty of water to handle two troughs. We may install some type of wildlife drinker as well.

We came upon a sow and two juvenile pigs not far from the spring.

This sow and juvenile has been spotted before. They're living near the spring.

Here's where they were rooting when we came along.

Although many people call this damage, I’m not sure it amounts to much. Maybe it’s beneficial.

Here's a track from the biggest of the three pigs, the sow.

My guess is that the sow was pushing 200 pounds.

On the way home we saw buzzards cleaning something up. Another Ranch Road victim?

Looks like a calf, but I didn’t get out to get a better view.

September ’09 Mayberry Update

It’s now been over two months since the arial spraying at Mayberry. Since that event, Rob has followed up by mowing, flooding and spraying the stuff that didn’t respond to our initial attempts.

Here are a few follow up photos.

burmuda grass cropped and resized

Burmuda grass is a tough customer, but after a couple doses, this grass looks like it’s on it’s way out.

Lola and the marsh cropped and resized

If not for chopping with the aspergrass chopper, this marsh wouldn’t show water. After flood up it won’t take long for the ducks to use this pond.

fragmites cropped and resized

The fragmite population has been expanding, but our spraying has hit it hard. Different plants take longer to show results and we’ve been hitting this plant multiple times to make sure it dies.

Farmall resized

The Farmall Tractor is too small for plowing, but it’s okay for spraying and mowing.

plowing resized

We brought in the neigbor’s big tractor to plow through the dead cattails and it did the job. It won’t be fun walking through the big clods, but it’s a necessary evil.

Aerial Spraying Results – 15 days after spraying

030 killing cattails in upper 3 cropped and resized

On Tuesday, June 16 2009 a helicopter spraying company hit our thick stands of cattails, tules, Bermuda and blackberries with a 3 quart to the acre mix of roundup.

Took a trip to Mayberry yesterday to view the results of the aerial spraying efforts. I found the cattails to be hard hit. Bermuda grass showed signs that it was on its way out. Tules looked sick, but not hard hit. The fragmities were somewhat hit, but may not have got directly hit by the spray so some were dying and others looked healthy. The berry bushes looked like they’d been fertilized.

Here are some photos.

cattail contrast cropped and resizedThis photo shows a healthy cattail patch vs one the was sprayed.

cattails pond 7 cropped and resizedHere’s the area which we considered top priority. It looks like these cattails are done for.

pond 3_0025 cropped and resizedThis photo shows some smart weed that was not hit, tules that are sick but still green and cattails which were most affected.

burmuda unsprayed cropped and resizedHere’s some healthy bermuda grass that was not sprayed. It is a dark green.

burmuda sprayed cropped and resizedHere’s some sick looking bermuda that was hit by spray.

My intention was to begin irrigation yesterday, but I decided to wait a few more days. I wouldn’t want to save any of the plants we want to kill. The cost of this effort was about $1,800 for the heliocopter and $3,000 for the materials. We’re hoping that the results are worth while, but the jury is out.

After we irrigate, we’ll do some disking and mowing to bring back some early stage vegitation.

Aerial Spraying for Cattails and Other Problem Plants

030 killing cattails in upper 3 cropped and resized

There comes a time when habitat is out of control. At Mayberry we’re there. The  back breaker was the conversion of the island’s primary agricultural use to cattle grazing with summer irrigation.

With the ditches filled to the brim with irrigation water, our ponds remain wet all summer. We’ve been unable to disk or mow our ponds, to the extent needed, for years. Expanding unhindered, cattails are now so thick that a dog cannot swim through them, let alone a hunter on his feet.

We no longer plant grain and have used cattle, sheep and goats to control the plants, but that has converted much of the property from broadleaf to grass, especially burmuda grass, which is thick and untilable.

Acres of habitat are not usable to us or wildlife. The only solution, aerial spraying. A heliocopter is the best tool for this job. Hiring the plane for two hours at a rate of $1250 per hour is not cheap, but it is a solution.

To kill the unwanted cattails, tules,  berries, and fragmities along with some additional burmuda grass control took about 3 quarts of roundup per acre, covering about 95 acres with a material price totalling about $2,100.

021 reloading cropped and resizedReloading material.

Out the door, that’s approximately $4,600 and some change. We hope that in about two weeks, we’ll be able to assess the kill and begin the next phase of the process. It will include some chopping, some plowing, maybe some planting and definitely some irrigation to bring on some of the desirable duck foods like watergrass.

It will be an interesting process – setting back the succession of plants and hopefully rejuvinating the habitat.

023 over the berm berries cropped and resized

More on the California Pheasant Crash

Ed Smith has a long history with pheasants and he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the country when it comes to producing pheasants. We spoke by phone today and he commented on the current pheasant decline.

According to Ed, the spring of 2008 was the driest on record and the record goes back to 1919. With no recordable rainfall after March 1, 2008 the lack of moisture assured that all pheasant nesting failed, unless aided by irrigation. 

At Little Dry Creek, Ed and the refuge staff managed several brood strips and they were productive, but brood strips are labor intensive and therefore cost prohibitive on public lands on a large scale.

Ed’s method of creating brood strips is very effective. He has worked with land managers in other states (Montana for one) as well with clear success. We have modified his program on our farm to fit our limitations.

In a nutshell, the brood strip is created by clearing annual grasses (disking, flooding or spraying herbicides) and then creating a method to irrigate the strip to promote insect life. The pheasants nest near the strips and the chicks live along the strip during the first critical months of their life cycle. During this time frame they are dependent upon insects for food and overhead cover from broad leaf plants to minimize predation by birds of prey.

For more detailed information about creating brood strips give Ed a call. He will be very happy to hear from you. His number is (530)868-1313.

The Pheasant Crash

A comment on my post about the weekend hunting asked my opinion on why there are no pheasants in the Central Valley. The question is very appropriate and to say that the pheasant population has declined dramatically is an understatement.

Pheasants are survivors. They live in diverse habitats and under good conditions they thrive in California farm lands. However, they require habitat. At one time, corn and rice farms provided habitat for pheasants. As farming became more efficient, ground was occasionally set aside for wildlife and pheasants could nest successfully.

Farming is now so efficient that almost no ground is left unfarmed. Roundup ready corn can take direct application of herbicides that kill all other plants. No habitat exists between the corn stocks.

I don’t have as much experience with rice, but with rice and corn prices skyrocketing last spring, farmers stepped up their efforts to plant every square inch of land.  As hunter landowners, we take steps to promote habitat. Our fields are nearly 100% natural and we manage for maximum wildlife habitat. Therefore we should have large numbers of pheasants -right?

The answer is no we don’t. We are somewhat confused by the lack of pheasant production on our 300 acres, but at least we have enough pheasants to make hunting reasonably worthwhile.

Why don’t we have more pheasants? The weather in California can make things difficult for pheasant chicks to survive and survival of pheasant chicks is probably the most critical link in the life cycle of pheasants. Chicks need to be able to maneuver through the field in search of bugs. Bugs are critical nourishment for the birds during the first few months of their development.

Bugs only live in ground that has moisture. Once the ground drys up, the bugs go away and the chicks starve. However, cover is also important. If the chicks don’t have cover over their heads, they fall prey to avian predators – like the marsh hawk.

Therefore the critical link in springtime is to have habitat with moisture and leafy upland plants to hide the birds from predators. This annual grasses don’t do the job. If the annual grasses take over, that will also break the cycle and reduce the number of successful broods.

Therefore, management of pheasant habitat is critical to optimum success. Farming does contribute, primarily by disking or otherwise killing annual grasses and making a place for br0ad-leaf plants to grow. Farming also can irrigate areas to create insect life that is critical. Where farming may have once been a net positive for pheasants, it now almost a total negative.

The reduction in the number of pheasant hunters is also a problem. The loss of hunters reduces pressure on farmers and landowners to manage the ground with pheasant in mind. We’re losing on all fronts.

What can we do? I believe that hunters should own more ground and manage with hunting and wildlife in mind as a viable by product of good land management.

Education of landowners and people who like to see pheasants is very important.

The California Department of Fish and Game is aware of this issue and can be responsive if querried. Ed Smith, retired from Fish and Game is an expert on this subject. Since his retirement a few years ago, he has spent many days afield with landowners and pheasant hunters educating them about this isse. He is the source of much of my knowledge on this subject.

Ed’s approach is to clear a path to remove annual grasses. Then create a way to irrigate the path such as making a ditch line. Then water is run down the ditch on a weekly basis to provide moisture for chicks. Once the annual grasses are prevented from taking over, the warm spring weather will allow broad leaf plants to grow along the ditch providing cover for the pheasant chicks.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it does work. That’s why we still have some pheasants on our property. I’ll post Ed’s phone number once I locate it. When his process is managed carefully, it can produce a boat load of pheasants.