Decoy Day

Many hands make light work. That is no better demonstrated than on decoy day at the Kerry Club, which is located in the North Grasslands adjacent to the Volta State Wildlife Area. With about 20 blinds that need decoys, it is necessary for the members to contribute a day of their time to paint, replace line on about 2500 decoys, kill the black widows, clean the inside of the blinds, add new “brush” to the outside, remove peeling paint, add a coat of new paint and grease the stems on the rotating stools.

Decoy day is also the day when members participate in a random draw for their place in the blind rotation. The rotation assures that each member gets a fair share of the best blinds. On good days all the blinds shoot well, but on slow days a good blind pays off as there are a few blinds that almost always shoot well.

On opening day members shoot at the blind they decoy, after that the rotation is in effect.

Each blind has a traditional pattern for decoy placement based upon location in the blind relative to the prevailing winds and also relative to its position in the pond.

Our blind is located on the southeast corner of a large pond. Because the prevailing winds are out of the northwest, we need to have about half our decoys on the southeast side of the blind to attempt to get the birds to swing around the blind and come back in from the southeast. On days when the wind blows out of the south, the blind usually shoots best, but on opening day their are usually enough ducks no matter where the wind comes from.

Decoy lines must be 1/8 of an inch in diameter and of the proper material. The weights must be at least eight ounces to assure the decoys do not float away (in powerful storms, some do anyway).

Tom and I choose to keep the ducks in groups of like species. About half of our decoys are teal, maybe a third are pintails and the rest are a mix.

We have one shoveler decoy that floated in from another blind and a half-dozen mallard.

You can see from the photos that the Kerry Club is managed for wide-open water. The bag is mostly teal, with pintail, shovelers and a few divers mixed in.

MDF-NEF Event a Success

Took a while to get it together, but the pain was worth it as 40 guests and ten knowledgeable tour leaders traveled from one location in the East Bay Area to another for two full days.

Tours included a first class trophy room, various wildlife barriers in the Altamont Hills and open space lands of Southeastern Alameda County.

Here are some photos taken by the participants on Friday.

 

 

Saturday morning brought on a new day of travels as the group slit up in eight four-wheel-drive trucks to tour lands of the SFPUC, EBRPD and private properties owned by Fletcher Ranch Road Properties, LLC. Here are some photos taken by the crew on Saturday.

 

At the Saturday night dinner, the group donated over $130,000 to the Mule Deer Foundation National Endowment Fund. How about that!

 

Conversation in the Vineyard.. schedule

This is the schedule of events for the Conservation in the Vineyards program as they stand on Tuesday February 26, 2019.

National Endowment Logo 3

May 2:  6:00 PM to 9:00 PM Arrivals

There will be a reception and hosted cocktail party at the Vineyard Inn. The hospitality room is on the ground floor. Just ask. It won’t be hard to find.

Friday May 3: Various tours as follows.

Breakfast will be ready at 7 AM for the early starters.

8:00 AM – 12 PM. Trophy Room Tour The first van will depart between eight and 8:30 and it will take nearly an hour to arrive at Rich Pierce’s trophy room in Clayton. Box lunch will be provided. Return by noon. (Limited to 20 people)

38 inch mule deer cropped and resized

This 38 1/2 in wide buck is one of the larger bucks in Rich’s collection, maybe not the largest.

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM  Friday Ohlone Conservation Bank. Rob Fletcher will load his truck up with four guests and take them on a tour of the Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank. This is a great time of year to view butterflies and wildflowers. (Limited to four guests)

11:00 AM Friday: Holm Ranch. Load up and travel to the Holm Ranch where former Livermore Chapter Chair Bob Holm will show you some of the best blacktail habitat in the East Bay Area. He’ll also provide a group of 8 people with a barbecue lunch. (Limited to 8 guests)

Emilee and (dad) Greg Selna Deer

Greg and Emilee Selna with a Holm- Ranch buck killed on a donated youth hunt.

11:00 AM until 4:00 PM Friday. Wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries. Passes and transportation will be provided.

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday Tour a ranch and wind farm with owner Janice Marciel. Come learn about Wildlife Barriers in the Altamont Hills – wind turbines, freeways and aqueducts. The Altamont Hills are home to many threatened and endangered species.

Friday and Saturday Tour Leader Janice Marciel

Janice Marciel will lead a tour of her ranch and wind farm.

Friday Evening 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM McGrail Vineyards

Social gathering at McGrail Vineyards. Hosted McGrail wine, heavy appetizers and a sausage table with some of your favorite venison – deer and elk.

This is a great opportunity to spend time one-on-one with MDF leaders, biologists, and land managers while trying out Livermore wines. Enjoy the fabulous view of the surrounding East Bay hills.

Saturday May 4. Open Space Tour 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM and load up the 4X4 pickups at 8 AM. This will be a caravan into Southeast Alameda County. The tour will be guided by many local experts and MDF supporters.

Here are some of the things you’ll be looking for:

 

 

 

The tour will cover three different management regimes. Although these open space lands may look the same, the underlying management goals are significantly different.

1.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manages watershed lands throughout the Bay Area. Read about it.  SF PUC San Antonio Reservoir

The mission of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is to provide their customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to their care.

Tour Leader Clayton Koopmann BIO Clayton third person short version with photo

2. East Bay Regional Park District East Bay Parks Stewardship

More information

Bio Doug Bell Bell_BioV2_2019 one pg

3. Fletcher Conservation Lands FCL web site

What is a private conservation bank?

About Rob Fletcher  Rob Fletcher Manager, FCLands

Joe DiDonato biologist Joe DiDonato bio

Saturday Evening 6:00 PM to 10 PM at Poppy Ridge Golf Course

Poppy Ridge 2014

Sit down and enjoy the views. Choose from four meal options. Hosted bar.

Hear what MDF leaders have to say about the state of MDF, the Endowment Fund, major MDF projects and the future. We will ask for your financial support.

Side by side flyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation In the Vineyards

A new event is coming to town. First time ever. It’s brought to you by The Mule Deer Foundation in support of the MDF National Endowment Fund (MDF NEF). The fund provides a perpetual funding source for MDF mule deer conservation.

The event, A Conversation in the Vineyards, will take place over a three-day period. May 2, 2019 is arrival day. Out of town guests will be hosted at the Best Western Hotel, Vineyard Inn on South Front Road starting at 6:00 PM with a welcome cocktail offering.

Friday will be a tour and wine tasting day. Tours will be half day and will include a trip to Morgan Territory and a very special trophy room, an Altamont wind turbine farm tour, a barbecue and ranch tour out Mines Road and a wildflower/butterfly tour in the southern Alameda County hills.

Of course there will be wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries.

At 5:00 PM Friday evening, the guests will share their experiences while eating and drinking wine at the McGrail’s Vineyard and Winery on Greenville Road.

On Saturday there will be a major all-day tour of San Francisco PUC watershed lands, East Bay Regional Park District land and also the Fletcher Ranch conservation lands. This tour will run from 8:30 AM until 3:00 PM.

Of course there will also be wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries.

The Saturday evening event will be a full-scale dinner and hosted bar at Poppy Ridge Golf Course where once again the guests can share their experiences from the tours and also learn about how to support the MDF NEF.

For room reservations call Best Western Vineyard in at (925)456-4522 and mention The Mule Deer Foundation room block.

Here is a link to a flyer that lists the prices:

Side by side flyer

Jeff Kerry

Jeff and Pluto

Jeff Kerry with Pluto at the Kerry Duck Club.

Today, DU’s Fritz Reid sent this notice to the members of the Kerry Duck club.

Gentlemen of KDC

On 14 Feb Jeff Kerry will be inducted into California Waterfowl Hall of Fame
I encourage you to join the fun
Event is sponsored by CWA 
Cost  $150
Great Napa wine and great lunch
Fine event and great salute to Jeff
Fritz
I’ve known and admired Jeff Kerry for many years. He is a man of great passion and knowledge. He’s a man’s man.
He’s been the man in the silhouette in my blog header since my first post. That was over ten years ago.
Congratulations Jeff, you lived it and earned it.

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.

Afterthoughts about My Inyo Mule Deer

While hunting the Goodale Buck Hunt, I met several people who said that the mule deer in the Inyo National Forest were a distinct subspecies of mule deer, separate from the Rocky Mountain mule deer found further north along the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

As I watched deer, it did appear to me that the deer were slightly smaller, on average, than the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer I’d been hunting in Modoc and Lassen Counties, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought until I’d killed my buck and returned home.

Rich with buck IMG_6485

He’s not a big deer. His width is 21 inches, and height just under 18 inches. He has all four points on each side and also nice eye guards. Everybody who hunts Goodale wants a monster buck, but the truth is that they are hard to find. I am very happy with this buck.

That’s when I remembered editing a piece for Mule Deer Magazine 1995. Dr. Valerius Geist was the author and he spoke of four or more distinct subspecies of mule deer in California. One of those is the Inyo mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus inyoensis. The other primary species being the Columbian black-tailed deer, the California mule deer,  and Rocky Mountain mule deer.

Readings within recent issues of MDF magazine reminded me that another mule deer expert, Jim Heffelfinger, has studied and researched this topic. His views appear to be similar to Dr. Geist’s, but also divergent.  A significant issue is whether the variations in  mule deer characteristics within California deer are created by evolution or hybridization.

In their 1999 book, A Sportsman’s Guide to Improving Deer Habitat in California, Kenneth Mayer and Tomas Kucera, recognized six sub-species of deer in California. They expanded the listing to include the southern mule deer and the burro mule deer. Here’s what they said about the Inyo mule deer.

The Inyo mule deer occurs only in California, ranging east of the Sierra Nevada in Mono and Inyo counties. Like the Rocky Mountain subspecies, it is migratory, with low-elevation Great Basin winter ranges and higher-elevation summer ranges, often on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Although a bit smaller it closely resembles the Rocky Mountain mule deer. Most wildlife biologists believe the Inyo mule deer is simply a southern form of the Rocky Mountain mule deer.

Possibly the most heavily researched issue with regards to differences between blacktailed deer and  mule deer has taken place along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, primarily in the Shasta Cascade Region. Based upon conversations with Dr. Geist, it is clear to me that when he wrote the article in 1995 he considered the variations in the deer in that area were primarily related to evolution. He labeled the mule deer in the Shasta Cascade region as California mule deer.

Many sportsmen consider deer in that area to be either Columbian blacktail, mule deer or hybrids.

As I reread the article written by Dr. Geist, my take away was that he believed that the primary differences between the deer species living in different regions of California was primarily due to adaptation to differing habitats (evolution).

The fact that these various sub-species of deer live in adjacent habitats supports the concept of hybridization. It is logical that the sub-species variations would be blurred by cross breeding. Jim Heffelfinger’s recent articles in MDF magazine and also Fair Chase magazine, Fall 2005,  discuss DNA sampling done for the Boone and Crockett Club. Addressing species boundaries has been an issue with record-keeping groups for years and the Boone and Crockett Club has made progress entering the arena of DNA sampling. Decisions about the species identity of an individual trophy can be made using DNA sampling technology instead of geographical location.

Since I’m not a scientist, I don’t want to go any deeper into the weeds, but I will say that my observations while hunting mule deer in the Owens Valley support the notion that the deer there are different from Rocky Mountain mule deer of Lassen and Modoc Counties in Northern California.

Here is a photo of a of an interesting illustration taken from the Winter 1995 issue of Mule Deer Magazine. In that article, Dr. Geist explains that a “cline” is a “…geographic line-up of forms that vary directionally in their characteristics… ” The sub-species of deer in the illustration fit that definition.

cline illustration from Mule Deer Magaine

This is a photo of an illustration provided to Mule Deer Magazine in 1995 by Dr. Valerius Geist – a recognized expert on mule deer taxonomy.

 

G3 – Goodale Buck Hunt

Didn’t expect to hold out this long, but G3 might be worth the wait.

In case you don’t already know, the G3 hunt takes place in the X-9B deer zone. The hope is that deer will migrate out of the surrounding mountains into the valley along interstate 395 which is the eastern boundary of the Hunt Zone.

The highest peak in the vicinity is Mt. Whitney (yes that Mt. Whitney). It’s over 14,000 feet up. The valley floor is at about 4,000 foot elevation.

Here’s a link to a map of the area:

https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=83618&inline

The season is from December 1 through December 16. When weather conditions are right, numbers of bucks show up from the nearby peaks and parks of Inyo National Forest. I’ve never been there, but I’m getting as educated as I can.

I’ll probably get a room in Independence. That would create the most comfort. The town is located right in the middle of the zone.

The weather appears to be cooperating. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Conservation Versus Conservation

 

mayberry-feb3-026-mallard-flock-cropped

This great mallard habitat on Sherman Island is no more.

Our duck club, on Sherman Island in the California Delta, was some of the greatest seasonal marsh on earth. In winter, ducks, geese, shore birds, raptors, river otters, beavers, muskrats and many more critters thrived in that habitat.

It was great hunting.

After the California Department of Water Resources purchased the duck club from us, we continued to manage the property as a seasonal marsh. Then California decided that the property needed to be turned into a conservation experiment.

The primary goals were to reduce subsidence and sequester carbon. This was a prototype project. Unfortunately, the goals of the experiment conflicted with the existing use.

In order to test the hypothesis, the existing seasonal marsh would have to be replaced by permanent ponds.

DSC_0056 ducks

Our Sherman Island duck club was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Having sold the property to the State, we were in no position to oppose the program. The rest is history. Although ducks and geese still migrate to Sherman Island, they avoid the permanent marsh in favor of the remaining shallow-flooded pasture that surrounds the property we used to own.

It’s easy to see the effects to waterfowl when you observe our property. It’s more difficult to quantify the effects this change had on the California waterfowl population, but when combined with other similar projects, it could be substantial. We’ll never know.

This was a situation where one form of conservation conflicted directly with another.

Conservation comes in many forms and we see conservation activities frequently, but underlying conflicts are usually invisible except to specialists who manage wildlife or wildlife habitat.

Ongoing are changes to wildlife preserves and refuges on public lands. Where lands are dedicated simply to wildlife, there is competition between thriving species and threatened species. Should endangered or threatened status always trump thriving or common?

Where land is purchased for and dedicated to a certain species or group of species, one would expect management of that land to be managed for that species. Is that always the case?

Take, for example, land purchased with Federal or State Duck Stamp money. Duck stamp funds are raised by our government agencies specifically to purchase habitat for migratory waterfowl. Hunters purchase these stamps with hopes that there will always be waterfowl to hunt.

California has a long list of threatened, endangered and special-concern plants and animals. What is the ultimate “trump” species? Can habitat for a threatened species displace waterfowl habitat on dedicated land?

garter snake on log

Sometimes habitat is designed by the forces of nature. Other times man redesigns land to favor one species or another.

Habitat can be converted by applying water. Timing of the water application is crucial. When water floods fields in winter and is left to dry during the spring, the habitat favors migratory birds. When farmers use water to irrigate, farming can create food for many species including waterfowl.

When land is flooded and water covers the land during spring and/or summer, it is beneficial for numerous species and sometimes waterfowl can nest there, but usually not.

When land is permanently flooded, it favors primarily fish species but there is little food to attract waterfowl, especially dabbling ducks.

We must not kid ourselves about permanent marsh. It may attract golf course Canada geese, but it is not important to migratory waterfowl.

It would be nice to think that conservation always benefits all things, but it’s not that simple.

Why a Habitat Committee to Oversee Public Hunting Areas?

IMG_3909 Sunrise from Blind 2bWetland management is a combination of science and art. A habitat committee should be run by an individual with many  years of experience in wetland development and maintenance.  A year or two of experience is nice, but marsh environments are dynamic. Weather is one of the major contributors to how a marsh grows and weather changes are dramatic and inevitable.

The more years one observes and manipulates marshland, the more they realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating and maintaining a marsh. The managers of individual public hunting areas should welcome advise and consultation with experienced marsh managers in the public and private sector. Marsh managers cannot rely on one technique applied over and over again when managing a wetland.

The habitat committee must be made up of individuals who are passionate about habitat and who are able to work with other people for the greater good. The leader of the habitat committee must be able to nurture a teamwork environment with participants in the agency and public sector.

The major marshlands of the California refuge system are located in areas critical to migratory waterfowl. Intertwined with these public wetlands are many private wetlands and related agriculture. Initially, the California wildlife refuges were created expressly to reduce the impact migratory waterfowl were having on farmers crops.

IMG_4054 December sun burning through fog

Ag lands like corn and rice provide short term food for waterfowl, but a seasonal marsh provides longer-term food as well as other habitat values.

The extent to which the initial motivation for public hunting areas has evolved can be argued. However the existence of private waterfowl hunting areas is a given and how the public areas are managed, especially regarding water and irrigation, has a major impact and direct impact on nearby private lands. This is another reason for a habitat committee with members with varied backgrounds.

One thing that is very clear to me, is that management of public hunting areas is a job that requires an understanding of hunters and the hunting culture. The passion of the hunter cannot be emulated or described by somebody who does not hunt.

The habitat committee should make sure that managers of public hunting areas understand that, for the most part, habitat on public hunting areas is there because of hunters and as a result, hunters want opportunity.

It’s always nice to be able to take photos of sunrises and decoys or observe seagulls, snipe, sandpipers, avocet and stilts, but a marsh without ducks and geese has no use for hunting.

We need a habitat committee in California. Tell the California Fish and Game Commission today. Sign the petition.

Here’s the link: http://chn.ge/2BfeLpd