Kelsey Sullivan wrote an interesting and informative article about DIF&W’s grouse research, for the North Maine Woods magazine, and I’ll include that article at the end of this column.
I asked DIF&W’s Brad Allen for predictions for grouse hunters this fall, and here’s what Brad told me.
“My thoughts are that grouse hunting and success will be mixed or spotty this fall but at least average statewide…..here’s why….if turkey production is an indication of successful grouse hatch we should be in great shape….I predicted an excellent turkey hatch given the drought we experienced in May!
“Up north, in our ‘grouse factory’, rain has been more common….bird reports are spotty (where you find them) so I think it will be average up there…and average in northern Maine is always pretty good as you know…. On our grouse study areas we have mixed results…in central Maine grouse nested early because of the warm spring…..nest success and hatch about par for the course….so pretty good…In our eastern study area (essentially Downeast)…. not so great, over winter losses (to predation) were higher than we expected for a mild year and not so stellar production….grouse hunting will be slow in eastern Maine this fall BUT……………
“Turkey hunting will be exceptional and I think woodcock hunting will be better than last year…..our male woodcock survey results were slightly better than 2015 and I think they too had a good hatch…but we have to be careful predicting woodcock numbers because droughts make it difficult for them to find worms…so hunt them were the soil is moist!…And last, there are lots of good gamebird foods out there now…..hunt where the food is……….apples and acorns abound……Good hunting Georg.”
My thanks to Brad and Kelsey for sharing all this information, and for the great work that they do for us. Here’s Kelsey’s article.
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the University of Maine
Collaborate on Spruce and Ruffed Grouse Research
By: Kelsey Sullivan – Wildlife Biologist, MDIFW
Dr. Erik J. Blomberg – Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, UMaine
Joel Tebbenkamp – Graduate Student in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, UMaine
These are exciting times for grouse research in the North Maine Woods and beyond. In the North Maine Woods, west of Baxter State Park, a project is entering its 5th year investigating how spruce grouse populations are responding to different forest management practices. In central and mid-coast Maine a ruffed grouse study is in its second year and is focused on understanding harvest rates and habitat characteristics important to ruffed grouse survival and reproduction. In addition to these two projects, spring ruffed grouse drumming surveys are being conducted across the state to monitor ruffed grouse populations at a larger scale. Key to the success of these projects is the collaboration between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) and the University of Maine’s (UMaine) Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology.
Spruce grouse are mostly found throughout northern and eastern Maine and can be seen as far south as Mount Desert Island. These birds get their name based on their habits of eating conifer needles throughout much of the year, particularly in the winter when they eat almost nothing but. Despite what their name implies, spruce grouse will eat not only spruce needles but also needles from fir, jack pine, and tamarack. The spruce grouse research being conducted in the North Maine Woods is part of a larger project exploring how wildlife use commercially-managed forests and the effects these land-use practices have on species’ survival, reproduction, and abundance. Specifically, for spruce grouse, we want to better-understand how populations perform under the management practices currently being used to produce timber in the North Maine Woods. To achieve this goal, the project is using radio-telemetry to evaluate adult survival, nest success, and the survival of chicks during the summer in areas of different forest management strategies. Results are still preliminary, but in 2015 we found that 50% of spruce grouse nests were successful, and 73% of females with successful nests raised at least one chick to the beginning of the fall. We also found that females with young chicks used areas of the forest that had greater ground cover made up of leafy green plants and low-growing shrubs. As this work continues and is examined at multiple scales, we will explore whether there are differences in survival and nest success under varying management practices. The results of this research will be used to inform habitat guidelines and produce recommendations for spruce grouse conservation in managed conifer forests, and to evaluate the stability of spruce grouse populations in the North Maine Woods.
Spruce grouse with radio transmitter Photo credit: Erik Blomberg
Hen spruce grouse Photo credit: Erik Blomberg
As many fall visitors to the North Maine Woods can attest, ruffed grouse (partridge to many Mainers) hunting draws many people to the woods each fall. Similar to the spruce grouse project, we are using radio telemetry to track ruffed grouse survival and explore how survival varies among seasons and across years, as well as to evaluate ruffed grouse habitat use to better understand what types of forest cover individuals use in the Maine woods. We are using a method called a lily pad trap to catch unsuspecting grouse as they travel along the forest floor. This trap consists of two trap bodies, each similar to a lobster trap, attached to a 50’ long by 18” high line of chicken wire. Traps are checked twice daily (morning and evening), and captured birds are fitted with a radio collar and an aluminum leg band. One major component of this work is tracking hen grouse during the breeding season to understand how habitat affects the areas they use for nesting and brood rearing. With ruffed grouse we also want to better estimate harvest rates, which is important for informing ruffed grouse harvest management in Maine. During the 2014 hunting season, we estimated that approximately 13% of our study populations were harvested by hunters. If you happen to shoot a banded ruffed grouse, please report the bird by calling the toll-free phone number printed on the band. Currently this work is focused on central and mid-coast Maine, however we may expand to northern Maine in future years.
Lily pad trap used to capture ruffed grouse Photo credit: Kelsey Sullivan
In addition to the spruce and ruffed grouse research based on radio-telemetry, MDIFW and UMaine are collaborating on a ruffed grouse drumming survey extending from the North Maine Woods west of Ashland, south to Bowdoinham and as far east as Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. The goal of these surveys is to monitor ruffed grouse annual population trends by counting the number of drumming males heard during the breeding season along roadside survey routes. This work is supported by field efforts of MDIFW biologists, UMaine faculty and students, and dedicated volunteers. Results from the first two years of the drumming survey show higher densities of ruffed grouse in the commercial forests of northern Maine, as expected, but we are also hearing a similar number of drumming males in a central Maine wildlife management area where grouse habitat management occurs through careful habitat management. This supports the general principle that ruffed grouse and other wildlife species that rely on of young forests can do well when a portion of the forest is managed for early successional forest cover. As forest stands outside of Maine’s commercial forests mature, a component of these stands will need active forest management if we want wildlife that depend on young forests, such as ruffed grouse and American woodcock, to thrive.
All three of these projects are intended to build on the historic knowledge of spruce and ruffed grouse in Maine by adding more contemporary, updated information to our understanding of grouse biology in the state. This more current information on habitat use and factors contributing to grouse survival and harvest will be incorporated into the state’s grouse management program.