Whipsnake Survey

Yesterday, biologist Mandy Murphy allowed me to tag along with her while she ran her string of snake traps in search of Alameda whipsnakes and other reptiles.

We found a whipsnake in the third trap we checked. It was a recapture as she had caught it once before and left it with an identifying mark.

The snake was a large one, about four and a half feet long. She also caught a gopher snake.

IMG_3199 trapped gopher snake

The trap consists of vertical boards which guide the target species towards four wire cages that are similar to minnow traps. Once the snake or other critter enters the trap, it cannot find a way out. In this photo there are four separate wire mesh cages underneath the foam boards which protect the caught snakes from overheating.

The traps are monitored closely so that snakes will not be injured.

Trap

Snakes that are caught provide samples for DNA testing to determine their genetic makeup. According to Mandy, researchers have determined that two California racer species, the Alameda whipsnake and the California racer, are closely related. It is anticipated that the snakes captured on our ranch will share the genetic makeup of both species.

Follow-up on Golden Eagle Band

The area near our ranch has a large concentration of eagles, both golden and bald. These eagles have been closely monitored for many years.

The individual who captured golden eagle 629-41062 was Daniel Driscoll. When contacted by my friend Joe DiDonato (Joe has a long history of working with golden eagles), Driscoll had the following comment.

“We captured 629-41062 as a breeding female at the Lower Indian Creek breeding area on 5-30-1996. Since she was at least 4 years old (adult) when captured, the eagle would be at least 25 years old this year.”

The Lower Indian Creek breeding area is located on the south side of San Antonio Reservoir in Alameda County. It is approximately a mile from the location where the carcass of a banded golden eagle was found yesterday. (See previous post)

Devil’s Garden 2016

The long-awaited Devil’s Garden hunt opened on October 22. With a two-week season, I elected to wait for the second week as that’s when the mule deer would be most active.

Rain was in the forecast and rain it did, but the hunting was not affected much. Most of the time was spend covering ground looking for groups of does. After three days of rain, the sun came out and Mount Shasta appeared to the west.dsc_05391

While hunting I took as many photos as I could, but made sure that I wasn’t holding the camera when I should have been holding my muzzle loader.

The muzzle loader I use is a T/C triumph, but it’s called the Bone Collector model. It is an excellent rifle as muzzle loaders go. It’s definitely a one shot affair. About the only change I made to the rifle was that I added a peep site as the rear sight. I wanted to modify the front sight as well, but technical difficulties got in the way.

Right from the start there were does and bucks in bunches of 8-12 deer. On the first day the bucks were all small. As time passed the bucks seemed to become larger each day. On the afternoon of day two, I was able to photograph a real nice buck that was very into the does.

DSC_0507[1] Second day buck.jpg

One of the problems with the Open Zone tag is that you know you will likely have many more opportunities down the road as long as you keep hunting. Normally this buck would have been headed for my wall. Even if he had been on the other side of the road, I wouldn’t have shot him, but he wasn’t in the hunting area anyway so it was a moot point.

In baseball terminology, he was safe by 50 feet.

Here are some more photos. With poor light most of the time and plenty of trees to make focusing difficult, I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked.

One thing I did notice was that people are feeding the wild horses. This became clear as a pair of mustangs ran up to my truck when I stopped near them. I also noticed alfalfa remnants on the road.

dsc_05031-come-a-running-cropped-and-resized

Unfortunately, on day five of the hunt we had a family emergency and I needed to return home. That’s the bad news. No buck in Devil’s Garden for me. It is a great hunt and having to leave just about guarantees that I’ll be hunting again this fall.

Thanks to many friends who helped me figure it out. Next time I’ll be very prepared. Hope there is one.

Next up. Doyle muzzle loader season, November 19.

 

Spring Turkey Season March 26th

IMG_1065-1 Brett with gobler resized

Son-in-law, Brett Kelly with his first gobbler – three seasons ago.

There’s a lot to talk about this spring. Rutty deer meat, the arrival of my full body wolf mount, planning my trophy room and purchase of an Open Zone tag are popular topics. But mostly the big news is that spring turkey season opens in 11 days.

We have about 12 to 15 turkeys living on our ranch. I see a few of them each time I go there, but they are not always the same birds. Of the turkeys, my best guess is that about half are adults and the rest poults.

Of the six or seven adults, I think two are mature toms and the rest are hens. Of the poults, probably half of them are Jakes, but I don’t want to shoot a Jake this year as the overall population is down. However, bagging a mature gobbler would be a satisfying feat.

Based upon past experience, the best day of the season to bag a mature Tom is on opening day. With a shotgun it is almost no contest. But, I’ve proven that that’s not the case with bow and arrow. In fact, I’m zero for forever on gobblers with my bow.

On he other hand I’ve got loads of experience (failure) and it’s almost a sure thing that I’ll get a shot opportunity on opening day.

The best tactic will be to set up my Double Bull blind in one of the known turkey hangouts with Jake and hen decoys about 15 yards away. Once a gobbler responds to my hen yelps, it’s almost a lock that he’ll come in strutting. Typically the gobbler will go eyeball to eyeball with the Jake decoy or maybe even knock it down.

At 15 yards, you’d think the shot would be a slam dunk, but turkeys are constructed differently from  anything else you can hunt with bow and arrow. Their vitals are low and back – nothing like deer. And, about half of the target is feathers. It’s easy to draw feathers without drawing blood. It’s also easy to poke a hole through a turkey and not recover the bird.

I’ve done this the wrong way before, but I plan to do it right this year.

I’ll be shooting a bunch of 15 yard practice shots during the next ten days.

 

 

 

 

Another Day at the Ranch

Yesterday was a good day at the ranch.

The day got off on a good note when I spotted a group of tule elk bulls feeding along the side of highway 84. I did you U-turn and snapped a few photos.

Not often does one see tule elk along a major highway.

Not often does one see tule elk along a major highway.

Here they are again.

Here they are again.

Impressive animals.

Arriving about 8 AM, the first item on the agenda was a whipsnake survey. Unfortunately I found only a western fence liizard for my efforts, but did snap a couple more photos.

Basking in the morning sun, every rock had either a meadow lark, horned lark or some other bird on top of it.

Basking in the morning sun, every rock had either a meadow lark, horned lark or some other bird on top of it.

A morning dove perched on the dead limbs of a blue oak.

Morning doves are sleek.

Morning doves are sleek.

It has been a good year for some wildflowers.

The Mariposa lily is a plant that has done well this season.

The mariposa lily is a plant that has done well this season.

We had a crew of eager helpers

We had a crew of eager helpers.

This larvae has almost no dorsal fin, shrinking gills and muscle development in his legs. We expect that he will leave the pond within a few days to a couple weeks.

This larvae has almost no dorsal fin, shrinking gills and muscle development in his legs. We expect that he will leave the pond within a few days to a couple weeks.

On the way home, a bobcat walked across the road in front of me. I snapped a photo before he went out of site. I think I’ve photographed him before.

Took this photo from about 100 yards.

Took this photo from about 100 yards.

Video of Ducks at Dusk

Took this video with my iPhone at dusk. Ducks and geese were flocking in to feed in every direction. Take a look for yourself.

http://youtu.be/3ynVax_MqQ4

These ponds are flooded for waterfowl hunting, but they provide a major food source for migrating waterfowl. Many more ducks benefit from these than are taken by hunters.  I’ll kill about 20 to 30 ducks and geese this winter. Try to figure out how many were feeding there on Friday night.

We spend money and effort to assure that these ponds are managed for waterfowl.

And, throughout California, other duck hunters like us expend a great deal of effort and their personal treasure for the benefit of waterfowl.

The Stuff That Wolves Are Made Of

Not that I don’t like wolves, but if it had been up to me, I’d have built a (metaphorical) fence along the border with Oregon to keep the wolves out of our state. I didn’t want to add wolves to the list of problems we have related to managing our deer and elk.

So, now it’s time to adjust.

Deer and elk are the stuff that wolves are made of. If you worship wolves you have to love deer and elk. They are inseparable.

Now that the wolf is a listed species in California, I see two possible choices – ignore the critters and wait to see what happens or prepare for them by building up our elk and deer habitat.

I’d prefer to be proactive, but it will take a lot more than my support to make a wolf plan successful.

We need more of the stuff that wolves are made of.We need more ungulates and we need them in a big way.

If we set the table and prepare the venison, the guests will arrive and be happy.

Ungulates are to wolves what grass is to elk and buck-brush is to deer. Current California does not currently have enough food for wolves. Our habitat is fragmented, neglected and unproductive. Without large-scale habitat manipulation, neither deer, elk nor wolves will be successful in California  – wolves listed or not.

Ask any hunter and he’ll tell you that deer numbers are declining in California. and that we have few elk. Ask and old hunter and he’ll tell you about the good-old two-deer days when you could hunt the Sierra Nevada mountains from the Oregon border to Mono Lake with one deer tag during a season that lasted from August to November and also purchase a second deer tag to hunt blacktail in the Coast Range.

However, now that wolves have been elevated to a status of “Endangered” under the California Endangered Species Act, there may be an improved chance to fund habitat improvement on a landscape scale for their primary source of food. Deer and elk thrive in young habitat. The best example of that is habitat that has been hit by fire. Old shrubs that have reached maturity don’t have nearly as much food value as shrubs that have recently sprouted. A forest that has burned can provide exceptional habitat for several years after the fire and that habitat can continue to be treated by mechanical means to extend the period of productivity indefinitely.

Deer and elk are capable of expanding their numbers rapidly in response to optimum habitat conditions. This is prime time for building deer and elk herds.

Although setting fire to the woods can be accomplished as part of a habitat project, there is liability and also human-related environmental issues to deal with. Accidentally burning down a private residence cannot be justified by a desire for increased habitat. And, air quality concern as monitored by the air quality people trumps many potential fire projects in California, but not all.

Policy changes are sometimes better than cash. A fire doesn’t have to be prescribed in order to be an effective habitat producer. An awareness of how we recover forest from wild-fire could generate progress in the habitat production arena.

Policy changes by forest managers could have a significant impact upon habitat recovery after wildfire. If habitat improvement could become a primary concern during the first years after large wildfires, prescribed burning could be replaced by, or augmented by, unplanned natural fire – a good example of turning lemons into lemonade.

At this point it is unclear as to whether current law under the California Endangered Species Act or Environmental Quality Act will be an effective tool for funding habitat for ungulates and wolves on a meaningful scale. But during this period of flux, between a Fish and Game Commission commitment to list and the effective date of the listing is a time to be opportunistic. The rules are being formulated right now.

And, we must not forget that wolves are still federally listed in California, so maybe there’s opportunity for funding at that level.

Another avenue to consider is to lobby for legislation that would require mitigation to offset any loss of habitat for wolves, deer or elk. The listing creates support for legislative activity and lawmakers are watching. How about a statewide policy of “no net loss of habitat for deer, elk or wolves.” Such a statewide policy should be attractive to deer hunters.

Forest grazing practices are another large-scale habitat consideration. When properly managed sheep and cattle can contribute to a healthier forest  by making more habitat accessible and palatable to ungulates. Is California’s range-land functioning optimally?

Private land can be a very important niche in wildlife management. The private sector can manage habitat  while avoiding the limitations of government bureaucracy.

Before hunters take a leap of faith in full support of California’s new wolf era, I’d expect them to require that a commitment from all parties to the sanctity of the hunting culture and the proven value of regulated hunting as a game management and habitat-funding tool.

Exactly how can habitat improvement be funded? How can forest management policies be changed? The details are the question. A status of “Endangered” can only turn into funding or improved policy if the public pushes for it. The public outcry to list the wolf will be fruitless if that same public does not lobby for the funding and policy change necessary to make the listing successful.

Is it possible that hunters and non-hunters could join forces to create an unprecedented mandate for habitat improvement in our state? Could traditional conservationists and environmentalists become an undeniable force that rocks the wolf-ungulate ecosystem?

For years conservationists have unsuccessfully attempted to elevate the quality and quantity of deer and elk habitat in California. The wolf listing could be the catalyst that allows meaningful large-scale habitat improvement to happen. It’s time to choose our course.

It’s too late to build the fence.