Archive for March, 2019

The Field and Stream Club – First 100 Years

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 13, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

March, 1919.

Had there had been an endangered species list then, it would have included elk, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, Canada geese, and most waterfowl species. The Boone and Crockett Club, founded in 1887 was actively working to raise awareness of the wildlife Americans were in genuine danger of losing. Hunting sportsmen across the US were pushing the development of a “duck stamp” (a tax on themselves, really) to restore wildlife habitat – mostly wetlands – and made it happen in 1934. Another, bigger, tax was under discussion by those same sportsmen, and, thus, the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax on firearms and other sporting goods.

In March of 1919, Oregon reopened beaver trapping after 20 years. Lingering budged problems from WWI meant big cuts in game warden numbers and irregular pay (as much as six months between paychecks) for fish and game workers across the West. In response to the post-WWI interest in competitive shooting, Savage was the first to announce a .22 caliber competition model; the Savage model 1919 NRA bolt action, seven pound rifle with 25 inch barrel, aperture rear sight and a Marine Corps type front sight, for $18.50. That year, South Dakota announced its first pheasant season, and Custer State Park became SD’s first state park.

In those post-WWI days, entire families still traveled by wagon or auto into the mountains for picnic gatherings or extended stays to escape the heat of the valleys. Seeing wildlife was an event worth sharing. Outdoor magazine covers regularly showed hunters or riders shooting off the backs of horses. Women rarely hunted.

In the context of those times, in March of 1919, 75 charter members agreed to dues of 50 cents a year, and formed the Ellensburg (Washington) Sportsman Association. Austin Miers was its first President, and J.H Van Gusen its first Secretary-Treasurer. As far as can be told, the Association was, from the beginning, committed to a motto of “Working Today for Tomorrow’s Wildlife.”

Early records are sketchy at best, having been drowned, shuffled among record-holders, and simply lost. Various notes and letters, however, give insight into the Club’s never-ending efforts to live up to its motto by speaking up, forming partnerships, and working as closely as possible with those charged with looking after the lands and wildlife of Paradise.

Nor did Association members forgot to celebrate the sporting life, as indicated in an uncredited typed letter found among the earliest records. A bird dog field trial was held in the “forenoon” of September 17, 1920 north of Ellensburg. Organizers reported hundreds of birds on ag land where the trial was held – especially “Hungarian pheasants” (now commonly “Huns,” but properly Hungarian partridge). Club member Orrin Craig’s pointer, Teddy, took home first place, and it was reported that the Huns outnumbered “Chines” pheasants “8 to 1.”

Newspaper accounts occasionally reported on various shooting activities and competitions sponsored by the Club, including a WWII “Butter Shoot.” This two-day trap shoot drew many hunters from Seattle and across the state (butter was rationed in those days, and well worth competing for), earning the club well over $600.

At some point in the 1930s, the Association became the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. It incorporated in 1946, to more effectively deal with funding and supporting the post-WWII outdoor interests of Americans.

Through its ten decades of existence, the organization partnered with dozens of local, regional and national organizations. These included Club predator control programs with U.S. War Bonds as payment, North- and South-Central Washington Sports Councils, Washington State Big Game Council, U.S. Soil Conservation Service, Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, National Wild Turkey Federation and the Cascade Field and Stream Club.

Projects managed by the Club or in partnership with others included the Yakima River Cleanup, repairing and preventing game and human damage to the Knudson Ranch, Tamarac Springs, Sorenson’s Pond, McCabe Pond, Whiskey Dick Creek, Fio Rito and Mattoon Ponds, wildlife safety access to irrigation canals, and many handfuls of others.

Those partnerships, and stand-alone Club efforts, raised funds for conservation and habitat for gamebirds and mammals in the county, and drew folks together to support or oppose policies affecting the outdoor future of Washington and American families.

The founders of  the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club worked across a wide band of future-oriented activities ranging from the setting aside of regional wildlife areas and parks to the implementation of the 1937 Pittman-Robertson excise tax, which supported the immediate development of professional game management agencies here and across America. (Those P-R funds have produced well over seven billion dollars for wildlife management – some 70% of state wildlife agency budgets today come from those taxes and license fees paid by hunters.)

From its founding, Club members have seen children as the emissaries sent to a time we will never see – what they take forward is critical. More about those efforts next week.

On March 30, the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club’s Chukar Run Banquet will kick off the Club’s second 100 years. Tickets available from Board members or www.kittitasfieldandstream.org. Have yours yet?

What about the Little Birds in the Cold?

Written by Jim Huckabay on March 6, 2019. Posted in Uncategorized

I don’t know why it surprises me, but it seems that, over time, many of the most interesting “You really should think about following up on that!” questions are from the mouths of babes.

Case in point:

Homey and I were in my office comparing notes on snow and cold and families right after that last eastern Washington post-snowfall cold snap. “We are really grateful to have a dry, warm house and plenty of food. And we don’t often think about the outside critters. The other morning we were all in robes drinking hot coffee and hot chocolate, just sort of staring out at the little birds at our feeder and talking about the bitter cold only inches away on the other side of the window. Our little boy’s nose was against the glass, and our four-year-old was absently blowing her breath on the window, obviously lost in some thought. Then, ‘Mommy? If its freezing, why don’t the tiny little biwds fweeze?’ Mom and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we give them food, but they obviously have other ways to stay warm. We’ll find out and report back.’ So, with those tiny bodies… How do they not wake up frozen to death?”

As chair of the Wintering Wildlife Subcommittee of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog and Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association, I was duty-bound to respond. “Well, of course, it starts with enough food,” I said. “They have to eat regularly or they die. And the ideal food will vary from species to species, so we include oily seeds and suet for those that need oil as a good burning fuel for their bodies, keeping their metabolic rates up.”

I reached for my copy of “The Birder’s Handbook,” by Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye, and pulled up Bird Whisperer of Paradise Deborah Essman’s list of our most common small birds. I offered a couple bird/nature guides to help his kids identify the birds at their feeder (Bird Whisperer’s list includes the English – house – sparrow, house finch and gold finch, black-capped chickadee, dark-eyed junco and redpoll), and showed him how to find, in the Handbook or online, the food and life needs of each bird that he and his family might identify.

Obviously, if a bird or animal’s metabolism stops, it dies, and different birds have different metabolic rates. Smaller birds have proportionately greater surface area in relation to their body mass than do larger birds, so little birds lose their body heat faster in the cold. Since they all maintain similar body temperatures, small birds have higher rates of metabolism than big ones and eat proportionately more food. Hummingbirds, for example, have the highest rate of metabolism of any animal – about a dozen times that of a pigeon and a hundred times that of an elephant, so they must consume their weight in nectar daily. (It is believed that no warm-blooded animal could survive if it was smaller than a hummer, since it could not eat fast enough to stay alive – but some argue for the shrew.)

Each bird has its own needs and many have special adaptations. The redpolls, for example, have a partially bi-lobed pocket about midway down their necks, where they can store seeds for when needed. The little chickadees are often seen “caching” seeds in some crevice or other hiding spot.  Most, however, just need handy food.

Then there are all those feathers holding in the heat generated from metabolizing that food. We have all observed birds sitting “fluffed up” in some protected spot (the Hucklings called them “feather balls”). This erection of feathers traps air in innumerable tiny pockets, providing excellent insulation (think featherbeds). A bird’s skin temperature may be 75 or more degrees warmer than the air less than an inch away. You have probably noticed that juncos, finches and sparrows foraging in cold weather frequently drop down, covering their legs and feet with their breast feathers while pausing in their food search, thus minimizing heat loss from featherless parts of their bodies.

Dark objects commonly absorb more sunlight than lighter objects, and it has been assumed that dark-feathered birds absorb more energy that light-colored birds. It turns out that there are several other factors at work, and a great deal depends on such things as wind speed and whether feathers are sleeked (laid back) or erected.  In fact, in cold temperatures and moderate winds, erect white plumage gains heat better (and is more resistant to heat loss) than dark plumage.

To help birds keep feathers clean – thus best able to erect and insulate – provide water for baths, keeping it heated if possible. Provide areas near your feeders where vegetation is dense enough to still the wind (and protect from predators), and put up birdhouses or house-like structures where your little feathered friends can cuddle up next to other to minimize metabolic outputs.

It takes food and feathers to get these critters (from whom we derive so much pleasure) through the cold season. A thoughtful feeding area helps them maximize the use of each.

Homey, your kids will love helping to plan feeding areas and choose bird food. Happy cold weather bird watching.