Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

graywolf.jpgThat’s the $64,000 question facing would-be wolf hunters today.

Federal judge Donald Molloy is scheduled to decide whether to grant a request by Friends of Animals and other anti-hunting groups to halt the season before Tuesday’s scheduled opener.

For Molloy to rule against the hunt, he would need to have decided that the hunt would do irreparable harm to the Idaho wolf population, estimated at 846 animals. Officials of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game plan to halt the season after the harvest reaches 255. Most people expect far fewer than that to actually be killed before the season’s scheduled Dec. 31 close.

Update: It appears the season will begin Tuesday as scheduled. Whether it will continue long is open to question. Molloy didn’t make a ruling at today’s hearing, but promised he’d make one “as soon as possible.”

Six figures for a goose decoy?

goosedecoy.jpgFrom the Associated Press:

A rare, 19th century hand-carved goose decoy that once plied Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River before being sold in Argentina, and considered by some to be a floating sculpture, is going on the auction block. It could bring in as much as $400,000.
The decoy was originally purchased by an American expatriate living in Argentina and then sold to a native of that country who was unaware of its origins.
The current owner, Maximo Kirton, e-mailed a photo of the Canada Goose decoy to Christie’s several weeks ago wondering what it might be worth. It sat on a shelve at the family’s sheep ranch in Patagonia, Argentina, for 10 years, and then on the mantel of his parent’s Buenos Aires home for another two decades.
To Kirton’s surprise, Christie’s told him the goose was a very unusual example of a working decoy from the late 19th century that could conservatively fetch between $200,000 to $400,000. Not only that, it was part of an extremely rare decoy rig that usually included at least six birds.
Making the discovery even more interesting was that three other birds from the same rig were found together in the 1920s or 1930s on the Susquehanna River, said Andrew Holter, Christie’s American furniture and decorative arts specialist.
“I nearly fainted,” said Kirton, a 32-year-old vintage car salesman in Buenos Aires.
Because they were utilitarian in nature, used to attract wild fowl, “their mere survival is extraordinary,” added John Hays, Christie’s deputy chairman.
The decoy will be sold on Sept. 30.


What’s killing America’s whooping cranes?

whoopcrane.jpgFrom the Associated Press:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The world’s only naturally migrating whooping cranes, and the species’ best chance for survival, died at about twice their normal rate last year and will likely see an overall drop in their numbers, a worrying sign for the once near-extinct bird that has been making a comeback.
The whooping crane — the tallest bird in North America at 5 1/2 feet tall — numbered just 15 in 1941 but now numbers 539 and is considered a success story by conservationists.
There are three North American flocks but only one that migrates without human help, traveling every autumn from northern Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas. Normally, about 10 percent of the flock dies off each year, but last year about 21 percent died off. Including new births, this year’s flock is expected to drop by about 20 birds from last year’s 270 when counted after returning to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this fall, said Tom Stehn, who oversees efforts to help the whooping crane for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That would mark the first population decline for the flock since 2002.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s killing all these whooping cranes,” Stehn said.
That flock typically grows by about six birds each year, but it dropped 19 birds between April 2008 to April 2009, as 57 of the flock’s 266 birds died and were replaced by just 38 surviving hatchlings.
Hatchlings aren’t counted in the total population until they have made it to Aransas, outside Corpus Christi, Texas. This year only 52 birds hatched to the flock — a six-year low — and only 22 of those survived, Stehn said.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out this year.”
The flock’s population tends to dip about once each decade, but last year’s spring decline was so sharp and unexpected it was “alarming,” Stehn said.
Because the flock that migrates 2,400 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada’s boreal forest to Aransas is the only self-sustaining flock, it is the species’ best chance for survival, he said.
Whooping crane chicks from a flock in central Wisconsin are guided to Florida by ultralight aircraft. A third flock in central Florida that was heavily managed does not migrate and has not been reproducing.
“The species remains so very endangered, and the threats are rising,” Stehn said.
It’s difficult to know exactly how the birds die in part because they’re not individually tracked and their 200-mile wide migration corridor is so large.
One likely cause for the population decline could be changes in habitat, Stehn said. A drought in Texas severely affected the whooping crane’s foods of blue crabs and berries. Corn feeders were set up to supplement the cranes’ diets, but only about half of them used the feeders. And wetlands and prairie have been making way for cornfields along parts of the flock’s flyway, which runs from northern Canada through Montana and the Dakotas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Birds are also threatened by disease, including infectious bursal disease, which was found in cranes in Florida in 2002 and again in one bird in the Aransas flock last year. Adult whooping cranes seem to be immune to West Nile virus, but there are concerns the disease could affect chicks.
Among efforts under way to understand the increase in whooping crane deaths is a plan to track about 20 of the Aransas birds using radio transmitters when they leave Texas next spring. Funding for a habitat conservation plan for the crane’s migration corridor has also been approved, but work on the actual plan has yet to begin.
Mark Dumesnil, manager for the Nature Conservancy’s Upper Gulf Coast program in Texas, said his organization recently acquired about 2,000 acres along the Texas coast, largely for whooping crane conservation.
“They are an icon species brought back from near extinction,” Dumesnil said. “And, when you protect habitat for these birds, you protect habitat for a whole suite of species.”

oughtsix.jpegWSAZ-TV reports that a Charleston man suffered a serious hand wound when he tried to make a keychain charm from a live .30-06 rifle round.

The 57-year-old man, whose name has not been released, originally refused treatment. A neighbor reportedly convinced him to go to St. Francis Hospital.

Can you say “whoopsie?”

bluecat.jpgCongratulations to David Wayne Green of Wayne (pictured), holder of a new state fishing record.

Fishing in Twelvepole Creek in rural Wayne County, Green hooked and landed a 40.4-inch, 22.3-pound blue catfish. The whopper broke the existing length record of 36.85 inches set last year in Mason County. The Mason County fish continues to hold the weight record, 27.2 pounds.

Division of Natural Resources officials predict many more blue-cat records will be set in the future as the agency works toward its goal of establishing a trophy blue-cat fishery in the Ohio River and its tributaries.

opossum.jpegLarry Tenbrick needs to work on his pistol technique.

When the Mount Vernon, Wash., man ventured outside to deal with the opossum that had been killing his chickens, he tapped the trigger on his .22-caliber handgun a bit early and shot himself in the thigh.

The Skagit Valley Herald has the full — and rather amusing — story.

Angler pulls drowning woman from Ohio River

A competitor in the recent Forrest Wood Cup bass tournament made a catch that didn’t make the news — until now.

Jason Borofka of Salinas, Calif., hauled a drowning 52-year-old woman out of the Ohio River near Ambridge, Pa. The incident took place while Borofka and his partner were pre-fishing the tournament venue.

The Salinas Californian has more on the story.

Dove hunting 101

dovehunt.jpgWith West Virginia’s dove-hunting season due to kick off at noon on Sept. 1, now would be a good time to read this article by Dallas Morning News outdoors columnist Ray Sasser.

Some of the information is Texas-specific, but most of it holds true for dove hunters everywhere. It’s a veritable primer on the subject, and it’s very well done. Enjoy!

carpbarrier.jpgNow that Asian carp have been found within 7 miles of the federal government’s much-ballyhooed electric carp barrier (the arch in the photo), officials suddenly find themselves scrambling to make sure the danged thing actually works.

Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has the somewhat depressing details.

This is one the government can’t afford to screw up. If Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, they could wreak havoc on the lakes’ multibillion-dollar recreational fishing and boating industries.

Wildlife trapper helps make L.A. airport safer

wltrapper.jpgThe L.A. Times has a cool story about a guy who traps birds and mammals on the grounds at Los Angeles International Airport.

Todd Pitlik traps critters as small as European starlings and as large as coyotes and foxes. Talk about an interesting job…