By Robert Lucke
Just a few weeks ago, kids all along the Milk River Valley were telling their parents that the man who stops his truck and counts pheasant s' crows was back again.
That would be Al Rosgaard, Havre biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks doing his annual pheasant count.
Rosgaard has two routes, one down the Paradise Valley road between Harlem and Chinook and the other from Havre up the Milk River to the Rookery.
"We found that the count is fairly similar to last year," said Rosgaard. "Between here and Harlem, it is just slightly lower than the highest count we have ever had. I think there could be lots of pheasants this fall. And in gathering information from our other biologist to the east, all the way to Glasgow along the Milk River we are looking at very high counts of pheasants."
The very northeast corner of the state took a huge hit in pheasant population four or five years ago, but there is good pheasant improvement there as well. So Rosgaard is predicting that there could be good pheasant hunting all over Region 6 this fall.
How do you count pheasants?
"You take a twenty mile stretch of road," Rosgaard explained. "In every twenty mile stretch you get out and just listen for two minutes and count the rooster crows."
Not exactly rocket science. And that differs from a Sharp Tailed Grouse count.
"For grouse we actually count the birds on their display or mating grounds, which are called leks," said Rosgaard. "In Hill County, which includes the north foothills of the Bear Paws, what I actually count is the number of males in each lek. This year they were down about ten percent from last year, but this was a better than long term average. In fact, it is just right at or slightly above a ten year average."
Sage grouse look good this year too.
"We have been doing real intense surveys in both Phillips and Valley Counties for sage grouse. "It appears that the numbers of adult males in breeding grounds are up. With numbers sage grouse of adult males up, it is a good prediction that fall numbers so we should be looking at good numbers of sage grouse this fall too," added Rosgaard.
Just from informal observation, Hungarian Partridge numbers seem pretty high in Hill County, so Rosgaard expects good fall populations in those birds as well.
Of course, storms like the one last week could change bird numbers drastically. This year, though, with that May 31st storm, Rosgaard thinks numbers were probably not hurt too much.
"Pheasants nest a little later and will re-nest if they have to. And they are more closely associated with river and creek bottoms where there wasn't so much snow. But it was wet and cold, which isn't good for them either," said Rosgaard.
Maybe it could be a different story with the sharp tails.
"They don't have much of any tendency to re-nest if they lose their young," said Rosgaard. "If they are hatched out, the cold and wet is detrimental. But if the mother is still on her nest, there is still a chance."
This is early for any hatches. June is hatching month and mid-June is the peak of it, Rosgaard related.
"On the other hand, the rain we had will help the grass to grow and provide good cover for the birds to survive during the summer. This rain should bring lots of cover," Rosgaard said.