Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cheat, both good and bad

Jake and I took a hike early this morning and were pleased to arrive back home with a count of zero ticks on us. As the summer warms up, the ticks seem to disappear. But, with the end of one problem comes another, cheat grass.

For a chukar hunter, cheat grass is a blessing in many ways. Mainly it's the cover and food choice of chukars. Look for steep slopes covered with cheat and you will usually find chukars. This spring was exceptionally good weather for cheat grass. The hills in eastern Oregon and western Idaho are covered with the grass which is now turning from purple color to brown. Turning brown means it is drying out and drying out means the cheat is becoming prime for causing problems for dogs. This year, with the great spring weather, the grass is exceptionally high. Most of the places I walked today, the grass was about the height of Jake's head, the height perfect for collecting the seeds in his ears.

Although the cheat seeds aren't prime quite yet for falling off the stem, with about two more weeks of these warmer temperatures they will be prime to stick in dogs ears, feet, nose, eyes and about anything else on a dog. They are barbed, and once they stick in they don't want to come back out the same way. Sometimes this can be dangerous for the dog, so it is good to double check your partner after walks in cheat country. Twice today while walking, Jake started shaking his head, and sure enough, I found a seed working it's way down his ear canal. Both times the cheat was close enough for me to retrieve. Back at the truck, I gave him the once over in his ears, eyes and toes and everything looked great. Jake never shook his head once on the ride home, so I'm going to assume he doesn't have anything deep down in his ear that I couldn't find.

The hassles with cheat grass are going to remain until the end of the summer when a heavy rain and wind knocks the dried seeds off the stems. It's best to check your dog after every hunt, but once the weather comes back, the chances of getting a piece of cheat stuck becomes less.

But, don't use cheat grass as an excuse to not take your buddy into the hills. Post walk checks will usually eliminate any problems. Just either stay near water or pack plenty of it to help wet your dogs dry throat and he (or she) will be ready to treat you to some entertainment like Jake did me today.

About a half hour into our stroll, Jake locked up on a point that I was sure would be a hen setting on a nest. I've found several nests in the past this way. I've even found covey's of baby chukars this way. Momma will usually either freeze or play injured at the dog's point. I wouldn't recommend doing this with a dog that isn't solid with the point. Jake, as with most of my dogs in the past, will break to the flush but stop at the whoa if I have to. All my dogs have pointed baby birds and never hurt one yet. I hope I didn't just jinx myself.

Anyhow, here's Jake's point.
I moved around getting different angles of his point
and hoped a bird might flush so that I could have a picture of Jake on point with a bird taking off right in front of him.
No birds ever flushed, so I was almost positive there was a nest with a bird setting on it.
So I moved in closer for a better look
and yet closer.
At three yards I decided it would be best to look for the nest myself and take Jake away. As I pocketed my camera a fawn jumped up at my feet and hustled off. I got a quick picture as it ran off.
I didn't know if my pictures would show the fawn until I got home and could make them bigger. If you look hard at the third and fourth pictures you can see the fawn laying in the grass. I've had this happen several times in the past but each time is a fun experience.

Although we had a few other uneventful points, I never saw a bird but I know they were there. A dog almost has to step on them before he can scent them this time of the year.

The other exciting news I can share is that there are grasshoppers every where. Whatever nest and chicks that are out there will have plenty of protein to help them survive the summer and be ready to tease us this fall.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Still looking good

Although we didn't get much rain in May, I think we're still in pretty good shape for a strong upland hatch. The rains in March and April really turned the upland hills into a bird paradise. It's the first week in June and most of the hills are still green. The southern slopes are starting to get that purplish color that cheat get before they dry up. Last year at this time the mountains were already dry and although we had a decent hatch the chicks seemed to disappear by hunting season. Fish and game biologist believe the loss of the chicks was due to the lack of insects which was due to the lack of green plants for insects to survive on. Here is what Jake and I found the southern slopes looking like today.
And the northern slopes are still going strong.
As far as the bird numbers go, we heard a few chukars talking off in the distance, but only saw one bird. She tried to get Jake to break point and chase her by using the old broken wing trick. I quickly healed Jake away, knowing she either had some chicks close by or a nest. That's always good news. I'm sure we were close to other birds in the two hours on the hill but mother nature takes care of it's creatures by either taking away their scent this time of the year or creating so much fresh scent (flowers, green grass, bitter brush bloom, etc.) that predators have a hard time detecting them. 

The second plus of the early summer are the insects. On most of the semi arid slopes , like the one in the first picture, there seemed to be plenty of flying insects, crawling insects and grasshoppers to feed hundreds of baby chukars with the protein they need to mature into devil birds.
As long as we have some good green plants for these insects they will thrive and so will the upland birds.
With a little help from mother nature (a few rains this summer) these conditions will persist and help the chick survival. The better the conditions the higher  the survival rate. Although I believe the numbers are going to double or better this year from last, don't get your hopes up because of me. How much can a guy know that likes to hike up a chukar hill? For that matter, how smart can a chukar hunter be?