Monday, April 19, 2021

Spring best season for wildlife watching

| May 6, 2020 4:04 PM

Last week I had a tough choice to make. Should I spend some time at my lake cabin and do some fishing and turkey hunting or head east and spend a few days on my farm?

The choice was made easier because I had just taken delivery of a new farm tractor. I have dozens of farm projects for my new tractor which includes a front-end loader, back hoe and grass/weed mower.

I consider it a necessary piece of farm machinery. My wife says it is just a man-toy.

Anyway, I decided to self-quarantine on my farm.

I took along my rifle and electronic predator caller, fully intending to do some coyote hunting.

But the lure of my new tractor kept me from doing any predator control work. I am always amazed at how coyotes, red fox, badgers and raccoons are classified as predatory or nongame species in Montana. You can hunt, trap and kill these guys anytime, 24-7, yearlong.

Yet they not only survive, but actually thrive.

So, are wolves any less intelligent? Do we really need to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money hiring PhD type wildlife biologists who carefully plan wolf hunting and trapping seasons to ensure that wolves survive?

A rancher neighbor stopped by for a chat. He cuts hay on my farm, so we took a little ride in his fancy new side by side 4-wheeler, to look at the hay field.

In the front seat of his 4-wheeler were three rifles. Any wonder why wolves won’t thrive in cattle country!

Anyway, I’m getting away from the main point in this column. One of my favorite spring activities on the farm is wildlife watching.

I am fortunate to have a sharp tail grouse lek on my property. A sharp tail lek is generally a small narrow, sparsely vegetated ridge where grouse gather in the spring to mate.

It is fun to watch 20-30 sharpies dance around on the lek. The research reports I read indicate that most of the birds on the lek are males.

The lady grouse are off establishing their nests. The hens periodically fly to the lek, where the males drop their chests to ground, put the tails up in the air and preform a dance that lasts a few seconds.

It seems all the males simultaneously start and end their dances. After getting bred, the lady grouse fly off to their nests, then lay an egg or two. Then, they fly back to the lek where the dancing and breeding routine is repeated.

I’ve read where the lek location is so strong, that when a homesteader built his sod-roofed cabin on a lek, the next spring, sharp tails used his cabin roof for a lek and breeding.

One of my favorite wildlife watching places is the pond by my farm house. It is only an acre or two in size, but is frequented by several species of prairie ducks each spring.

On a typical morning, there will be four species of ducks on the pond. Duck species typically are mallards, green-winged teal, northern shovelers and northern pintails. Occasionally there is a coot or two.

I take a cup of fresh coffee, grab a lawn chair, my binoculars, duck identification book and go park my butt by the pond. The peace and quiet of prairie wildlife watching by the pond is very enjoyable.

Last week my pond watching also included a visit from two Canadian honkers, a muskrat and two painted turtles.

It is a mile or more from another pond or creek, so I am amazed at how venturesome a turtle must have been to travel a mile cross-country from water, to search for a new home.

The two geese are nesting on another pond at the north end of my farm. If they nest successfully, I will erect a goose nesting platform on each of my ponds.

I sometimes like to compare animal behavior to human social behavior.

Most spring mornings there are four species of ducks of my pond. They are all members of the duck family, yet they seldom intermix. The mallards will be in one corner of the pond by themselves. The shovlers in another corner and the pintails in another duck group by themselves.

Apparently, they haven’t learned the human virtues of diversity and integration.

Overall, I hope your Montana spring is as enjoyable as mine.