Daily Archives: July 14, 2017

Aerial surveys confirm Lesser Prairie-chicken population is holding steady

The latest lesser prairie-chicken survey shows population trends remain stable after six years of aerial survey data collection, according to the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA). The survey indicates an estimated breeding population of 33,269 birds this year, up from 25,261 birds counted last year. Though scientists are encouraged by the numbers, they know year-to-year fluctuations are the norm with upland birds like the lesser prairie-chicken.

“The survey results indicate a 32 percent increase in the number of birds over last year, but we don’t read too much into short-term population fluctuations,” explained Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie-chicken Program manager.

by J.N. Stuart

by J.N. Stuart

“The monitoring technique used for this survey is designed to track trends, which more accurately reflect the amount of available habitat and population stability,” Wolfe said. “The bottom line is that the population trend over the last six years indicates a stable population, which is good news for all involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation efforts.”

Lesser prairie-chickens can be found in four ecoregions in five states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Wildlife biologists note prairie-chicken numbers fluctuate annually due to changes in habitat conditions, which are mainly influenced by weather patterns. The surveys this year indicated apparent population increases in three of the four ecoregions and rangewide, with a decrease estimated in the fourth ecoregion.

The shortgrass prairie ecoregion of northwest Kansas saw the biggest increase in birds, followed by the mixed-grass prairie ecoregion of the northeast Texas Panhandle, northwest Oklahoma and southcentral Kansas. The sand sagebrush ecoregion of southeast Colorado and southwest Kansas also registered an increase in the number of breeding birds. An apparent population decline was noted in the shinnery oak ecoregion of eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

“We’d also like to point out that the aerial surveys this year were taken before a late spring snowstorm blasted through a portion of the bird’s range, just prior to the peak of nest incubation,” said Wolfe. “Like all wildlife, the health of these birds depends on the weather. Rainfall at the right time means healthy habitat for the birds, and heavy wet snow like we saw in late April can have a negative impact on survival and productivity. We’ll know more about the impact of that weather event after aerial surveys are completed next year.”

The Lesser Prairie-chicken Rangewide Plan is a collaborative effort of WAFWA and the state wildlife agencies of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. It was developed to ensure long-term viability of the lesser prairie-chicken through voluntary cooperation by landowners and industry. The plan allows industry to continue operations while reducing and mitigating impacts to the bird and its grassland habitat. Industry contributions support conservation actions implemented by participating private landowners. To date, industry partners have committed more than $63 million in enrollment and mitigation fees to pay for conservation actions, and landowners across the range have agreed to conserve more than 145,000 acres of habitat through 10-year and permanent conservation agreements.

Night fishing: Lights, whites, action!

It’s summer in Kansas, and that means daytime temperatures in the 90s and lake temperatures in the 80s. During the day, fishing can be tough. However, when the sun goes down, it’s a different story, and for anglers who love to catch hard-fighting and abundant white bass, there’s a secret weapon: the night light.

Young of the year gizzard shad are big enough to attract hungry white bass by early or mid-July. On calm days, you may see white bass chasing shad on the surface, and if you can get within casting distance, fishing can be good but usually short-lived before the school of whites goes back to deeper water. And you’ll have to deal with hot weather and heavy boat and personal watercraft traffic.

It’s a different story at night. The temperature cools, the wind dies, and recreational boaters crowd the ramps quitting for the day. Night anglers go against the grain and have the lakes to themselves. The first order is to locate fish, using sonar to search river channel breaks, mid-lake humps or other structure in 15-25 feet of water. When schools of gizzard shad are seen suspended over structure, it’s time to set the anchor.

Once the anchor takes hold, it’s time for the light. Most anglers use a submersible halogen light, which is set just below the boat hull and emits a bright halo. It’s almost mesmerizing to watch the light as shad begin showing up and circling. If all goes right, the disoriented shad will attract white bass, which hang just below and pick off stragglers.

That’s when anglers pick off the white bass, fishing jigs vertically. Watch the sonar to determine how deep the white bass are holding and try to adjust your jig to just above them. Some nights, the fishing can be as hot as the daytime temperatures.

A quick look at the 2017 Fishing Forecast, www.ksoutdoors.com, shows Melvern, Clinton, Cedar Bluff, Cheney and Glen Elder to the be the Top Five reservoirs for white bass, both for numbers and quality sized fish. Night fishing for whites under the lights is a great way to enjoy the coolest part of the summer and catch lots of fish.