RGS & AWS 2016 Ruffed Grouse & American Woodcock Fall Forecasts


09/09/16

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RGS News

This report has been compiled by the
Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society biologists:

Meadow Kouffeld-Hansen, Regional Biologist Minnesota and UP Michigan
Ted Dick, MN DNR Forest Game Bird Coordinator*, Minnesota

(*MN DNR position partially funded by RGS)
Dan Dessecker, Director of Conservation Policy, Wisconsin
Scott Walter, PhD, Regional Biologist, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa
Eric Ellis, previous Regional Biologist Michigan, Ohio & Indiana
Linda D. Ordiway, PhD, Regional Biologist Mid-Atlantic & Southern Appalachian
Andrew Weik, Regional Biologist New York, New England & Eastern Canada

www.ruffedgrousesociety.org

 

American woodcock by Tim Flanigan
Photo by Tim Flanigan

 

The American Woodcock: Population Status 2016 was not available until early September, so the results of the range-wide woodcock singing-ground survey are not included in the forecasts at this time. Status reports are released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and posted on the RGS website. Current and prior year versions are available on the Woodcock Facts page.


UNITED STATES

CONNECTICUT
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

For Connecticut, Mike Gregonis, upland game animal biologist for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, echoed the favorable weather conditions during the nesting season, and shared observations of grouse broods on state-managed areas. Seek the best habitat for grouse in Connecticut, such as some areas that have been managed to improve habitat for New England cottontail.  

INDIANA
With the steep decline in Indiana’s ruffed grouse populations resulting in the suspension of the season, there will be no grouse report.

MAINE
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

Kelsey Sullivan, upland game bird biologist for Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), noted good spring conditions across the state, and weather perfect for nesting other than a late snowfall in northern Maine, which however melted quickly. The University of Maine and MDIFW run a small number of grouse drumming routes; drums heard per stop this spring were generally on par with last year, with some variation. Sullivan is looking for a fairly average fall grouse-wise, with the local variation one often finds across the state.

MARYLAND
Maryland doesn’t run drumming or summer surveys. The following is provided by Maryland DNR Wild Turkey and Upland Game Bird Project Manager Bob Long. The range of ruffed grouse in Maryland is primarily limited to Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties. Surveys continue to demonstrate that the highest densities are found in the westernmost portions of the region.  Flushing rates have remained relatively stable over the last decade, suggesting that grouse are holding their own in areas with good habitat.  But a cold and wet spring may have hampered grouse nesting success which may make hunting more challenging.  Breeding woodcock reproductive success in Maryland may also have been affected by early spring weather.  But for the hunters that target migrant woodcock later in the season, success is probably influenced more by fall and winter weather and timing of the migration.

Maryland Ruffed Grouse Flushes per Hour Hunted

MASSACHUSETTS
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

MICHIGAN
Michigan DNR did not conduct normal spring drumming grouse surveys this year because of concerns over past open-records requests from a hunter whose activities jeopardized the validity of the survey.

The following is Al Stewart’s, Michigan DNR upland game bird specialist and program leader, forecast for this fall concerning grouse and woodcock hunting in Michigan:

In Michigan, we are beginning the upward side of the 10-year grouse population cycle, based on the 2015 spring drumming grouse survey. Our survey data suggests that the Michigan grouse population last peaked in 2010 and the most recent low in grouse abundance occurred about 2013. My prediction is that in 2016, grouse hunters will experience flush rates similar to last year or up slightly.  Most skilled grouse hunters rated 2015 as a pretty good year.  If production is decent this summer (field biologists are reporting more broods than last year), there may be a slight increase in the number of grouse seen this fall.  Based on state and federal survey information, I predict that woodcock hunters this fall can expect a season similar to 2015.  About 120,000 Michigan hunters pursue ruffed grouse AND woodcock each year.  Our surveys indicate that each hunter annually spends an average of 7 to 8 days hunting grouse and woodcock.  This adds up to almost a million days of hunting recreation each year in Michigan for these popular forest game birds.  Hunters report the highest grouse flush rates during October 16-31. Woodcock hunters indicate that October 1-15 is when they experience the highest flush rates. The birds can be found statewide, but greater densities are in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP).  Forty percent of the UP is public land and the NLP, 30 percent.  

Woodcock season opens the Saturday nearest September 22 and extends 45 days.  This year the season starts September 24.  Grouse hunters enjoy two seasons and three months of hunting—the first season begins September 15 and ends November 14, and the second runs from December 1 to January 1.

An online interactive map (www.michigan.gov/mihunt) allows hunters to search for habitat types on public land, and the DNR’s Grouse Enhanced Management Sites (GEMS, http://tinyurl.com/mich-gems) are not only intensively managed, walk-in hunting areas, but also a program that offers participants discounts to local businesses.

MINNESOTA
This year Minnesota spring drumming counts were up in all four Minnesota grouse survey regions (drum counts were up 18%). Spring drumming surveys are conducted every year during the same time period and provide an index of the adult grouse population coming out of winter. Reproduction and recruitment of juvenile grouse in the following summer is dependent upon multiple factors including weather, food availability, disease, predation, etc. Anecdotally the 2016 spring and early summer weather did have several cool and wet periods which can impact chick survival. In addition personal observation of natural resource professionals indicate that the amount of insects was about average and the soft mass crops (berries etc.) was average to above average depending on species and location. There has been some indication that some grouse hens may have re-nested with broods of small chicks being observed in July. Reports of brood observations have been variable throughout the state and may indicate that grouse densities may be variable between areas once again during the 2016 season.

The 18% increase in statewide drums per stop follows an insignificant decrease of -1 percent from 2014 to 2015 (according to the 2016 Minnesota Spring Grouse Surveys). This is as expected during the increasing phase of the 10-year population cycle. Minnesota ruffed grouse survey regions are shown in Figure 1 below. Statewide counts of ruffed grouse drums averaged 1.3 drums/stop (dps) during 2016 (Figure 2). Drum counts were 1.5 dps in the Northeast on 93 routes, 1.1 dps in the Northwest on 8 routes, 0.8 dps in the Central Hardwoods on 16 routes, and 0.8 dps in the Southeast on 6 routes (Figure 3a-d). The following is from the 2016 Minnesota Grouse Survey.

Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Survey Regions
Figure 1. Survey regions for ruffed grouse in Minnesota. Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Central Hardwoods (CH), and Southeast (SE) survey regions are depicted relative to county boundaries (dashed lines) and influenced by the Ecological Classification System.

 
 

Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Population Index (1949-2016)
Figure 2.  Statewide ruffed grouse population index values in Minnesota. The lines on the data points starting around 1981 and continued in to 2016 are confidence intervals. The difference between the two years when this change in analysis began is biological and not a result of change of methods.

 

Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Drums per Stop - Northeast Region
Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Drums per Stop - Northwest
Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Drums per Stop Central Hardwoods
Figure 4a,b,c,d.  Ruffed grouse population index values in the Northeast (a), Northwest (b), Central Hardwoods (c), and Southeast (d) survey regions of Minnesota.  The mean for 1984- 2014 is indicated by the dashed line.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

Karen Bordeau, upland game bird coordinator for NH Fish and Game, also noted the nice stretch of hatching weather. Drumming surveys were up in the North, White Mountains, and Central regions, and down in the two southern regions of New Hampshire. Bordeau is looking for better than average grouse numbers this fall.

 

New Hampshire Drumming Events Heard per stop 1999-2016 - Northern Region
New Hampshire Drumming Events Heard per stop 1999-2016 - White Mountian Region
New Hampshire Drumming Events Heard per stop 1999-2016 - Central Region
New Hampshire Drumming Events Heard per stop 1999-2016 - Southwest Region
New Hampshire Drumming Events Heard per stop 1999-2016 - Southeast Region
 

New Hampshire Fish and Game also conducts a grouse wing and tail collection survey to estimate annual productivity (juvenile birds per adult female). Grouse productivity in 2015 was 2.87, the highest since the survey began in 2009.

New Hampshire Ruffed Grouse Juvenile/Adult Female Ratio 2005-15

Again in 2016, New Hampshire Fish and Game will be asking ruffed grouse hunters THROUGHOUT NEW HAMPSHIRE to help with the survey efforts.  As the hunting season approaches watch their website www.WildNH.com for details on where to pick up and drop off your completed packets!  You can also call Karen Bordeau at 603-744-5470 for more details.  As an incentive for hunters to participate in this wing/tail study, The Ruffed Grouse Society has generously donated a quality upland game bird gun to be given to a randomly selected participant.  The drawing will take place in 2017 after the survey results are summarized.

NEW YORK
Spring across New York was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

New York’s spring turkey hunter drummer survey results have not yet been finalized. New York experienced the same favorable spring weather conditions as the rest of the Northeast, so we expect a good grouse and woodcock hatch, and the fall forecast for NY should be similar to the rest of the Northeast – better than average.

NORTH DAKOTA
No report at this time.

NORTHEAST

It’s Dry: The Effect of Drought on Woodcock

After a spring seemingly favorable to ground nesting birds such as grouse and woodcock, summer thus far into late July has been drier than usual. In fact, the lack of rainfall across many areas of the Northeast has resulted in drought conditions (see maps below). The colors on the map show yellow as “abnormally dry”, beige as “moderate drought”, and orange as “severe drought”.

What affect does this have on woodcock? During normal soil moisture conditions, earthworms are more abundant in hardwood (e.g. alder) stands than under conifers (e.g. spruce and fir), and woodcock preferentially use hardwood stands presumably because of the greater prey availability in these stands; conifer stands are one of the least preferred daytime forest covers.

Northeast United States Drought Monitor - July 26, 2016

Research by Greg Sepik and others reported in the 1983 Transactions of the Northeast Section of the Wildlife Society, on woodcock at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Maine in the late 1970s showed that during summer drought, woodcock shifted habitat use from predominantly hardwood cover to predominantly coniferous cover. They also greatly reduced use of night roost habitats, apparently because it was energetically unfeasible to make the dawn and dusk flights to and from the night roost areas. The authors go on to say “By the end of August all age classes and sexes of woodcock normally have begun to increase in weight (Owen and Krohn 1973). During the last two weeks in August 1978 (the drought year) all woodcock captured were from 5-41% (mean =19%) below the average weights reported by Owen and Krohn (1973) for that period. Licinsky (1972) reported that a 40% weight loss resulted in the death of 2 captive woodcock, thus some woodcock in 1978 may have starved.”
Birds typically molt (drop and regrow) their wing feathers annually. This is an energetically and nutritionally demanding process. During the 1978 drought year, Sepik and colleagues found that 3 times as many female woodcock delayed or skipped molting some of their flight feathers, compared to normal, apparently due to a shortage of food in late summer.

An important thing to remember is the 1978 drought referenced in the above study continued through August; precipitation throughout the rest of this summer could greatly alter the severity and pattern of drought.

OHIO
Ruffed grouse numbers in Ohio remain quite low. In 2016, 37 roadside drumming surveys were completed in Ohio resulting in a mean 1.8 drumming grouse per 100 stops. That number is up slightly from 2015 (1.3 drummers/100 stops), but is below the 5-year and 10-year averages of 2.3 drummers/100 stops and 3.0 drummers/100 stops, respectively.

Ohio Rangewide Ruffed Grouse Drumming Index 1972-2016

During the 2015-16 season, 40 cooperating grouse hunters averaged 28 flushes/100hours afield in Ohio. This flush rate is slightly above the record low of 22 flushes/100 hours during the 2013-14 season. With few exceptions, we expect Ohio grouse hunters will experience similar flush rates during the 2016-17 season.

Ohio Grouse Flushes per 100 hrs 1972-2015

PENNSYLVANIA
Lisa Williams, grouse and woodcock specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission wrote, “Unfortunately, I’m predicting another modest grouse season in 2016-17. Your flush rates last year were the third lowest in 50 years.

Pennsylvania Grouse Flush Rates 1965-2015

Nesting and brooding weather in 2016 was largely hot and dry, which should have been good for reproduction. But June 2016 brood sightings were down 28% and July brood sightings were down 88% compared to long term average.  Total grouse sightings were down 26% in June compared to long term average and down 68% in July.  July sightings of both broods and total grouse were the lowest recorded in 36 years. So my preliminary forecast is for another below-average grouse season.

For woodcock, the winter of 2015-16 was mild enough that many stayed in southern PA. I received reports of peenting and displaying woodcock through the end of February! The spring Singing Ground Survey was the same as it has been since 2014 (~1.2 males per route). Spring surveys were followed by good weather conditions for nesting and brooding in most of the state.  As always, hunting success will be largely affected by the timing of migration through PA, but I’m optimistic that you’ll see plenty of action if you head afield this fall. Good luck in the coverts!”

RHODE ISLAND
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

SOUTH CAROLINA
No report at this time.

VERMONT
Spring across New England was pretty normal, not unusual weather-wise. An absence of cold, wet weather through June would bode well for nesting and early brood-rearing success for grouse and woodcock.

Vermont does not conduct a ruffed grouse survey. Based on regional weather patterns during spring and early summer, grouse production should be above average.

VIRGINIA
No report at this time.

WEST VIRGINIA
No report at this time.

WISCONSIN
After three  or four years of with grouse numbers fluctuating around cyclic lows in northern Wisconsin, the 2016 spring drumming surveys suggested we’re headed toward our next population peak. The number of drums-per-stop recorded by observers increased 4% in the northern region and 8% in the central region.  “This was welcome news for grouse hunters in Wisconsin,” noted RGS/AWS Regional Biologist Scott Walter.  “We knew that 2016 was a pivotal year, and expected grouse numbers to either slip further downward or begin the climb back toward our next cyclic high.  The upward trends in our primary grouse range suggest we’re headed back toward the peak, and this should translate into increasing flush rates over the coming 4 or 5 years.”   Grouse numbers in southerly areas continue to be low due to the aging forests in these areas.  RGS/AWS is partnering with numerous natural resource agencies and conservation groups to address this habitat issue.  

Wisconsin Regions

Though the drumming surveys suggested an increase in breeding numbers of grouse, the number of grouse hunters encounter this fall will also be influenced by production levels.  While wet weather has been the norm across most of northern Wisconsin this summer, most of this precipitation has fallen after the early June period when chicks are most susceptible to weather, and hence impacts on chick survival may be minimal.  “We’ll know more about production and expected fall numbers when the DNR releases the results of the 10-week brood survey next month, which provides our best indication of reproductive output for grouse and other gamebirds,” said Walter.  

The Field and Forest Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool (FFLIGHT) allows hunters to identify young aspen and alder stands on state and county properties that are likely to hold grouse and woodcock.  This mapping tool can be located by going to www.dnr.wi.gov and searching for FFLIGHT.  There is also a mobile version that allows hunters to locate quality habitat using a smart phone or similar device while in the field, and a tutorial embedded in the website enables users to quickly become proficient in locating quality habitat in their hunting area.   Hunters can also find the full 2016 spring grouse survey report by searching for “wildlife reports” and clicking on the “small game” link.  


CANADA

NEW BRUNSWICK, NOVA SCOTIA, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
No report at this time.


References to season dates or regulations are as provided by our correspondents and should be verified on that state or province’s official website or published materials.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service American Woodcock: Population Status, 2016 report
For more specific information about American woodcock population statistics, read the American Woodcock: Population Status 2016 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mission Statement

Established in 1961, the Ruffed Grouse Society is North America's foremost conservation organization dedicated to preserving our sporting traditions by creating healthy forest habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other wildlife. RGS works with landowners and government agencies to develop critical habitat utilizing scientific management practices.

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