2010 SHOULD BE ANOTHER BANNER UPLAND BIRD SEASON

Upland Forecast

Mild winter and ideal nesting conditions spell second straight year for more birds
PRATT — Upland bird hunters who thought we had a good season last year should be pleased to know that the trend should continue in 2010. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) has completed summer surveys, and the results, compiled in the Upland Bird Hunting Forecast, suggest that Kansas will have abundant upland birds for the second year in a row. Although some hunters have been concerned about a significant amount of federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land turned back to crop production, this apparently has not hurt bird production to date.

The winter of 2009-2010 saw near average snow and ice accumulation in Kansas, which led to strong breeding populations in most regions. Most of the state also received average or above average precipitation last fall and early this spring, creating good habitat for nesting and brood rearing. In addition, weather during the critical nesting and brood rearing period from May through July was favorable in all but a few areas of the state. So with the exception of a few areas where nesting was disrupted by severe thunderstorms, hunting should be good.

Due to good production in the summer of 2009 and a relatively mild following winter, the number of pheasants going into this year’s nesting season was similar or slightly improved from 2009 in most regions of the state. Precipitation this June and early July prevented many farmers from harvesting their wheat crop until well after the peak time when pheasant nests hatch. The timing of wheat harvest plays a big role in the number of young produced each year in Kansas because a substantial number of hens nest in green wheat.

The timing and quantity of early summer precipitation also plays a direct role in game bird productivity. Success of nests and survival of young is generally best when rain comes slowly and in near average amounts during May and June. Most of the state’s primary pheasant range met that prescription, resulting in above-average production. However, a few areas did receive heavy rainfall and/or hail during the peak reproductive period. As a result, production was likely below average in all or portions of the following counties: Cheyenne, Thomas, Sherman, Logan, Jewell, Republic, Marion, Decatur, Norton, Phillips, Rooks, Smith, Osborne, Harvey, Reno, and Sedgwick.

Compared to 2009, however, pheasant numbers will generally be improved throughout their range. In those parts of northwestern Kansas not affected by one of the major summer storms, pheasant numbers will be higher than at any point in the last 20 years. The best pheasant hunting will be in northwest and westcentral Kansas, but portions of central and southwestern Kansas will also offer excellent opportunities.

The bobwhite breeding population is also similar or improved from 2010 in every region of the state with the exception of northeast Kansas. Much of the northeast was blanketed by more than 12 inches of snow for at least three weeks this past winter. Such weather is much more detrimental to bobwhites than other upland game birds because quail are less capable of locating food in deep snow. As a result of the prolonged snow cover, the bobwhite breeding population was down more than 40 percent from last year in northeastern Kansas.

Throughout most quail range, habitat was good for nesting and brood rearing due to plentiful moisture last fall and early this spring although heavy precipitation and flooding associated with summer storms hurt bobwhite productivity in a few areas. Within primary bobwhite range, productivity was below average in all or portions of the following counties: Jewell, Republic, Greenwood, Lyon, Osage, Coffee, Woodson, Butler, Chase, Marion, Harvey, Norton, Phillips, Rooks, Smith, Osborne, Reno, Harvey, Sedgwick, Labette, Wilson, Montgomery, Neosho, Elk, and Allen. Bobwhite productivity was good throughout the remainder of Kansas’ quail range, which should lead to improved bird numbers.

The best quail hunting will be found throughout the central part of the state from the Oklahoma state line northward to about U.S. Highway 24 and eastward to about U.S Highway 77. Quail numbers will also be improved in southwestern Kansas, offering some very good hunting opportunities in that region. Compared to last fall, quail numbers will be down in far northcentral Kansas and generally across the eastern one-third of the state. However, there are a few areas within the eastern one-third of the state that were unaffected by any major storms. Bird numbers in those areas will be improved from last fall but still far below the numbers observed 20-30 years ago in that area. Bobwhite numbers in far northwestern Kansas will also be improved from last fall, but that portion of the state is at the fringe of quail range.

Kansas is home to both greater and lesser prairie chickens, and both species require predominately native grass habitat. Lesser prairie chickens are found in westcentral and southwestern Kansas in native prairie and nearby stands of native grass contained in CRP. Greater prairie chickens are found primarily in the tallgrass and mixed grass prairies in the eastern one-third and northern half of the state.

The spring prairie chicken lek survey indicated that the lesser prairie chicken breeding population was similar to the previous year. Nesting and brood rearing conditions for lesser prairie chickens were generally good this summer due to timely rainfall throughout their range. It is likely that populations will be up from last year, and the best hunting will be the central and northcentral portions of the bird’s range.

Greater prairie chicken breeding populations were also similar to last year throughout their range. In the core of the Flint Hills, the majority of occupied habitat was burned again this spring, leaving little vegetative cover to conceal nests. Periodic burning is essential to prevent woody encroachment into the prairie, but burning the same acreage every year greatly reduces the potential for successful nesting, even when weather is favorable. In addition to the lack of nesting cover, a good proportion of the central Flint Hills experienced heavy June rainfall that likely further hurt production in that area. Conditions were comparatively better for production throughout the northern Flint Hills due to less spring burning and more favorable rainfall. Conditions were good for production throughout most of the Smoky Hills in northcentral and northwest Kansas. The best greater prairie chicken hunting should be found in native grasslands from the northern Flint Hills westward throughout the Smoky Hills.

A detailed 2010 Kansas Upland Bird Hunting Forecast is available online at the KDWP website, www.kdwp.state.ks.us. Click "Hunting/Upland Birds/Upland Bird Regional Forecast" for the complete report.

The following table includes the upland birds seasons for 2010. Possession limits are twice the daily bag limits.

Season Open Dates Daily Bag Open Areas
Prairie chicken (Early) Sep. 15 –Oct. 15 2 East of U.S. Hwy. 281
Youth Pheasant Nov. 6-7 2 Statewide
Youth Quail Nov. 6-7 4 Statewide
Pheasant Nov. 13 – Jan. 31 4 Statewide
Quail Nov. 13 - Jan. 31 8 Statewide

Prairie chicken

East and Northwest Units

Nov. 20 –Jan. 31 2 Excludes area south of I-70 & west of U.S. Hwy. 281

Prairie chicken

Southwest Unit

Nov. 20 –Dec. 31 1 South of I-70 & west of U.S. Hwy. 281

-30-