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OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: Minnesota ruffed grouse and sharptail counts decline, DNR accepting applications for prairie chicken season lottery

Graphic/ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Minnesota ruffed grouse drumming counts down

Minnesota's ruffed grouse drumming counts were down 29 percent statewide from last year, the Department of Natural Resources said in reporting results from spring drumming count surveys.

"Surveys indicate the peak occurred last year," Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader, said in a statement. "Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle, and counts this year are pointing to the peak lasting only one year this cycle.

"This has occurred before, but it's always nice when the cycle stays high a little longer."

The 2018 survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.5 drums per stop statewide, down from 2.1 last year. The averages during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 were 0.9, 1.1, 1.1 and 1.3, respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.

Results this year follow an increase from 2016 to 2017. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota's grouse range, counts were 1.7 drums per stop; in the northwest, there were 1.0 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.9 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.9 drums per stop.

In Beltrami Island State Forest, drumming counts declined to an average of 1.7 drums per route, compared with 3.1 last year, said Gretchen Mehmel, manager of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at Norris Camp south of Roosevelt, Minn.

On the upside, weather for nesting and brood success to this point has been favorable, Mehmel said.

"We are hoping that will make up for the lower spring numbers," she said in an email. "We've been seeing a few broods around already. Time will tell."

Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory in an effort to attract a mate. Crews survey ruffed grouse populations by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state's forested regions.

Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.

That apparently came into play last year, when hunters in many parts of the state reported poor grouse hunting success despite the high drumming counts. This fall, Minnesota, along with Michigan and Wisconsin, will be testing grouse for West Nile virus in an effort to learn more about the impact of the mosquito-borne disease on ruffed grouse.

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-- Herald staff report

Minnesota sharptail counts decline

Following a similar trend as ruffed grouse, Minnesota sharp-tailed grouse numbers also declined, the DNR said, based on spring surveys of males displaying on traditional mating areas, which are called leks or dancing grounds.

Comparisons of the same leks counted in both years indicate counts per lek were down from last year in the northwest and statewide. Declines in the east-central region were not significant, likely because fewer leks were counted compared to last year, and loss of small leks does not reduce the index.

The number of grouse per lek in the northwest survey area was down 24 percent from last year—from 10.4 in 2017 to 9.8 this year—and 23 percent statewide.

This year's statewide average of 9.3 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980, the DNR said. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.

More info:

-- Minnesota DNR

Apply for Minnesota prairie chicken license

Hunters can apply through Friday, Aug. 17 for one of 125 permits for Minnesota's 2018 prairie chicken hunting season, the DNR said. The nine-day season begins Saturday, Sept. 29, and is open only to Minnesota residents.

The hunt takes place in 11 prairie chicken quota areas in northwest and west-central Minnesota between St. Hilaire in the north and Breckenridge in the south. Up to 20 percent of the permits in each area will be issued to landowners or tenants of 40 acres or more of prairie or grassland property within the permit area for which they applied. The season bag limit is two prairie chickens per hunter. Based on hunter surveys, the DNR estimates that 97 hunters shot 86 prairie chickens during the 2017 hunt. Results of spring booming ground surveys will be available later this summer.

Licensed prairie chicken hunters also will be allowed to take sharp-tailed grouse while legally hunting prairie chickens, but prairie chicken hunters who want to take sharptails must meet all regulations and licensing requirements for taking sharptails. Sharptails and prairie chickens look similar, and sharp-tailed grouse hunting is normally closed in this area of the state to protect prairie chickens that might be taken accidentally.

Applications are available wherever Minnesota hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

More info:

-- Minnesota DNR