Archived Weekly Wildlife News

Produced by Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

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May 2013

 

May 4, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Biologists report fluctuating western Oklahoma turkey numbers
Turkey hunting season has brought with it some concerns about Rio Grande turkey populations in western Oklahoma. Many hunters have observed fewer birds to hunt than in previous years.
"Part of what makes this a tough year for many western Oklahoma turkey hunters is the lower number of adult toms in the population. Two-year-old birds normally make up the largest portion of adult toms that hunters so much enjoy pursuing," said Rod Smith, southwest region supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Additionally, overall turkey population numbers are reduced from what many have experienced in the past few years. Western Oklahoma turkey populations were at an all-time high five years ago.
"In 2008 there were numerous reports from landowners that there were too many turkeys on their properties. Several years of abnormally good turkey reproduction led to those record numbers of turkeys. Following 2008, we experienced a couple of years of below normal reproduction, and in 2011 reproduction was characterized as dismal," Smith said.
The redistribution of some flocks is also contributing to the change in turkey numbers observed in some areas. Roost sites in parts of southwest Oklahoma were damaged by the severe ice storm from two years ago and drought.
"Large cottonwoods are the primary roosting trees in much of the west, and many were either highly damaged or died from these natural but abnormal weather events," Smith said. "This change in roosting habitat resulted in both a dispersal of winter flocks and in some cases a shift in spring turkey flock distribution."
Hunting season dates and bag limits are generally conservative and take into account expected changes in wildlife populations. Current regulations for western Oklahoma were in place before the upswing in population numbers observed in 2003-08.
"Considering where turkey populations are this year, season dates and bag limits are in line with sustaining healthy turkey populations. The Wildlife Department will continue to monitor turkey populations to assure our regulations remain in line with population numbers. Biologists will be especially watchful of the affects of lingering drought in much of our western regions," Smith said.
To more closely monitor annual turkey harvest, the Wildlife Department may consider electronic checking of harvested birds in western Oklahoma. Checking birds west of I-35 is currently not required.
Veteran biologists and hunters observe that there is a normal ebb and flow in wildlife populations. When populations decline after years of unusually high abundance, it is normal to perceive the change as a population problem. While overall Rio Grande turkey numbers may not be at the high levels observed just a few years ago, they are still considered about average for the past decade or so.
"Although poor reproduction caused by extreme drought and heat in 2011 resulted in fewer than normal two-year-old birds this spring, many hunters are reporting good numbers of jakes (male birds hatched in 2012) but a general reduction in the number of adult birds," Smith said. "With improved reproduction last year and the potential for a fair to good hatch this year, we may be well on the way back to the high numbers all turkey hunters' desire."
Turkey season in Oklahoma runs April 6 through May 6 in most of the state, excluding the far southeast counties where the season runs April 22 through May 6.
The wild turkey in Oklahoma has not always been prevalent. At one time the objective for turkey conservation was to restore decimated populations, but today there are huntable populations in all 77 Oklahoma counties. Hunters' dollars and the efforts of groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation -- which actively funds and supports turkey conservation in Oklahoma -- partnered with efforts by the Wildlife Department has resulted in a very successful conservation story.
For complete regulations on turkey hunting in Oklahoma, including license requirements and season details, consult the current "Oklahoma Hunting Guide," available on line at wildlifedepartment.com.


May 7, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Watch for scissortails now
Scissor-tailed flycatchers are now in Oklahoma for the summer after migrating north from the tropics. Oklahoma is one of only seven states in which the bird nests.
"Scissortails are neo-tropical migrants, which breed in North America in the summer and winter in Central and South America or the Caribbean islands," said Rachel Bradley, wildlife diversity information specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Scissortails usually start appearing in the spring and inhabit the state until late October.
The birds are easily identified by their long, scissor-like tail that extends out during flight. Scissortails also can often be seen perching on fences and telephone wires along open prairie roadsides watching for food.
According to Bradley, the scissortail's diet consists largely of insects.
Landowners can make their land more attractive to scissor-tailed flycatchers and certain other bird species by planting and maintaining scattered shade and shrubs to add perching and nesting sites.
Wildlife enthusiasts who are not landowners can still benefit scissortails and other wildlife by supporting the Department's Wildlife Diversity Program, which is committed to species not hunted or fished. They can aid the Wildlife Diversity Program by purchasing a Wildlife Conservation license plate, a Wildlife Department publication or by donating directly to the Wildlife Diversity fund. For more information about the Wildlife Diversity Program, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.


May 14, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Last chance to apply for Oklahoma Controlled Hunts
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's popular controlled hunts program application period will close May 15.
The controlled hunts program offers once-in-a-lifetime elk and antelope hunts, highly sought-after buck hunts, and other quality hunting opportunities through randomized drawings that only cost sportsmen $5 to enter. Opportunities offered through the program include hunts on Department or other government-owned or managed lands where unrestricted hunting would pose safety concerns or where overharvest might occur.
The online application process takes just a few minutes and must be completed through the Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com.
"Whether you want to hunt a bull elk in the Wichita Mountains, an antelope in the Panhandle or a trophy buck at locations across the state like the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, the controlled hunts program is one of the best things going in Oklahoma hunting," said Melinda Sturgess-Streich, assistant director of administration and finance for the Wildlife Department.
All applicants, including lifetime license holders, must pay the $5 application fee to enter the controlled hunts drawings. The fee is paid only once per person per year regardless of the number of categories entered.
Applications are offered online through a secure process that only accepts applications once they have been filed correctly, and a print-out confirmation page is available for sportsmen to document their submitted application.
Log on to https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/controlledhunt/ctrlhunt.asp to complete an application for the Controlled Hunts program.


May 16, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Landowners and deer benefit from Deer Management Assistance Program
Oklahoma landowners can sign up for assistance in managing the whitetail deer population on their properties by participating in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
DMAP is a joint effort between Wildlife Department biologists and the landowners, or cooperators, who collect detailed information about the deer population and those harvested on their property. The program gives landowners, hunt clubs or lease operators the ability to implement a more intensive form of deer management than might be possible under statewide regulations through additional antlerless deer harvests. DMAP cooperators may be issued permits that allow the harvest of additional antlerless deer during regular archery, primitive firearms and gun seasons. The program also allows antlerless harvest with a gun the entire month of December.
A landowner wishing to become a DMAP cooperator must enroll at least 1,000 acres in the program. Owners of smaller properties may ask their neighbors to join them in their application to meet the 1,000-acre minimum.
"Key to the program is that it allows some flexibility in harvesting antlerless deer to adjust for local deer populations on participating properties," said Erik Bartholomew, big game biologist for the Wildlife Department. "Once an application is submitted, a biologist will arrange to visit the property to evaluate habitat, determine the landowner's management goals and review past year's harvest data. The biologist will recommend approval of the DMAP application if the program can benefit the landowner's management goals."
Cooperators who join DMAP must conduct a spotlight survey in late summer, and agree to tag and maintain accurate records of all deer harvested on DMAP properties. Data collected upon harvesting a deer, including sex, weight, antler beam measurement and a lower jawbone, is vital to understanding the herd's characteristics. After the deer season, the Department will issue a report to the landowner to help evaluate future management needs.
For more information, to receive a DMAP application or for general wildlife technical assistance, call (405) 521-2739 or (405) 385-1791, or write to P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City, OK 73152.

 

May 20, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Free family fishing clinics slated throughout summer
Metro area families can learn to fish this summer at free clinics hosted every week throughout June and July in both Oklahoma City and Jenks.
The clinics are hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation as part of its Aquatic Resource Education Program. Clinics are held from 6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. multiple evenings each week at the Jenks Casting Pond and at the Arcadia Conservation Education Area Kids Pond near Edmond. Several additional clinics are held throughout summer at other metro area locations.
The clinic provides an opportunity for family's to come learn about fishing in Oklahoma. No cost is involved to attend the clinic, and participants are exempt from an Oklahoma Fishing License while participating in the clinic. Attendee's need not even worry about bring rod, reel, tackle or bait since everything is provided.
"The nice thing about these clinics is that individuals can experience fishing at virtually no cost, without investing in something they may end up not having a long term interest in," says Daniel Griffith, Aquatic Resources Education Coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
A full listing of dates for the clinics is listed on the Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com. Pre-registration is required to attend the Free Family Fishing Clinic since space is limited.
The Aquatic Resources Education Program (AREP) is one of the Department's means to promote the sport of fishing and aquatic resource awareness. It gives youth, regardless of family situation, an opportunity to learn how to fish and to gain an understanding of Oklahoma's aquatic environments.
Through the program, kids and adults can take just a couple hours to attend a fishing clinic and come out with knowledge of such topics as fish identification, knot-tying, fish cleaning and cooking, fishing tackle selection, equipment use, water safety, outdoor ethics and more. Most clinics, including those held at the Wildlife Department's Arcadia Conservation Education Area in Edmond and at the Zebco Casting Pond in Jenks, include hands-on fishing opportunities at stocked ponds. Developed in 1988, the program's objectives are to increase the understanding, appreciation, and awareness of Oklahoma's aquatic resources; facilitate the learning of angling skills, outdoor ethics, and sport fishing opportunities in the state; enhance urban fishing opportunities; develop adult fishing clinics and provide information on specialized fishing techniques.
The Department's fishing curriculum is also taught in classrooms across the state through the Fishing in the Schools Program by teachers that have been trained to implement the program.
"We understand that not everyone is going to walk away from these clinics an experienced angler," Griffith said. "But we hope they leave with a positive experience and enough knowledge to venture off in the sport of fishing on their own."
For more information about the Aquatic Resources Education or Fishing in the Schools programs, contact Daniel Griffith at (405) 396-2223.


May 24, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Go fishing for free June 1-2
Oklahoma anglers can fish for free during Free Fishing Days June 1-2. During these days, a state fishing license will not be required for anglers to go fishing in Oklahoma, whereas in most other cases a license is required. Additionally, an Oklahoma City fishing permit will not be required for fishing those waters where the permit is normally mandatory.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's many communication outlets such as its free news releases, Facebook and Twitter accounts and weekly fishing reports are useful starting points for finding fishing information. Every week the fishing report provides a listing of lakes and the current state of angling success at that location. The Department also updates its Facebook page daily with current reports from its own personnel as well as its fans on a range of current outdoor activities.
"If you stay connected with the Wildlife Department through these outlets, you are going to have a good, timely picture of what is happening in the outdoors across the state at any given time," said Michael Bergin, information specialist for the Wildlife Department. "With biologists and game wardens stationed across the state, as well as more than 15,000 Facebook fans and almost 3,000 followers on Twitter, we stay pretty connected to what's happening all over the state. If you connect with us, you'll know what's going on, too, because we're constantly sharing photos and reports from our employees and friends who have been having current success. Free Fishing Days are sure to be a great time to snap some photos to share with us, too."
Oklahoma offers fishing in lakes and rivers, but also in urban waters designated by the Wildlife Department as "Close to Home Fishing" locations. Although state fishing licenses and the Oklahoma City fishing permit (where applicable) are not required during Free Fishing Days, anglers should note that certain city permits may still apply to specific fishing areas.
Additionally, anglers fishing Lake Texoma should be aware that Free Fishing Days applies for all of the lake on June 1 but only on Oklahoma portions of the lake on June 2.
Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to offer free fishing days about 30 years ago and has since been followed by dozens of other states that have established similar days.
The Wildlife Department is encouraging anglers to take a short video clip or photo of someone catching their first fish and send it to the Department through Facebook or Twitter. The Wildlife Department's Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/wildlifedepartment. On Twitter, search for the handle @OKWildlifeDept.
For more information about fishing in Oklahoma, log on to the Wildlife Department's website at wildlifedepartment.com.

 

May 24, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Selman Bat Watch registration forms available May 28
The sight of at least a million bats emerging into the evening sky is a spectacle that won't be seen under city lights, but people can still see this nightly event this summer at one of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's annual Selman Bat Watch events.
These annual summer get-togethers are held every weekend in July at the Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area, where the Selman Bat Cave is used every year by migratory female Mexican free-tailed bats to raise pups. In the evenings, they take flight in mass numbers to feast on literally tons of insects.
Each night's viewing activities are limited to 75 visitors who are randomly drawn from a pool of mailed-in registration forms, which will be available online at wildlifedepartment.com beginning May 28. Hopeful viewers must print, complete and mail their registration form to the Wildlife Department at Bat Watch Program, P.O. Box 53465 Oklahoma City, OK 73152 between May 28 and June 5. Only mailed registration forms post-marked on or by June 5 will be accepted, and instructions for completing the form should be read carefully to ensure correctly completed registration. Successful registrants will receive an e-mail confirmation and a packet in the mail. The cost is $12 for admission ($6 for children 8 - 12 years old).
"Given the popularity of this event, the Department uses this approach to streamline its registration process," said Melynda Hickman, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department.
More information and details about the Selman Bat Watch can be found online at wildlifedepartment.com.
The Wildlife Department purchased the area around the bat cave in 1996 because of its ecological importance to the Mexican free-tailed bat. According to Hickman, the cave is important because it is one of only four major sites in Oklahoma that is used by females to raise their young.
Hickman says the bats serve as free pest control. The bats spend daylight hours inside the cave. But most of the action is after sunset.
"Studies tell us that the bats at Selman Bat Cave eat about 10 tons (20,000 pounds) of insects every night," Hickman said.
The bats' evening emergence is the highlight of a Bat Watch, but there is more to the evening than simply watching bats. Buses take visitors to the Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area, usually closed to the public, where they learn facts about bats and the prairie community. There also is an optional nature hike before the bats emerge.
Additionally the Bat Watches benefit the local economy by drawing tourists from a multi-state region into Oklahoma. Hickman said Oklahomans enjoy a rare opportunity to get close to wild bats and to share their importance to the environment and the economy.
For more information, call (405) 990-4977 or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

 

May 28, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation


Young wildlife best left alone
During the spring and summer, Oklahomans begin to see a variety of newborn and young wildlife that may appear to be abandoned, such as birds, squirrels, and even fawns that may be weeks or even just days old. While it is common for human observers to want to help them, biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation say these youngsters are better left alone.
"If you find newborn wildlife while in your yard or in the woods that appears to be alone, chances are an adult animal is nearby and is simply waiting for you to move along so they can take care of their young," said Melynda Hickman, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department. "It is common for fawns to be left in a safe place while does feed nearby, and interfering with that always causes more harm than good. It's also best to leave birds, young squirrels and other wildlife alone as well."
In Oklahoma, most fawns are born in May and June and start becoming visible in mid to late June.
Young birds and squirrels can be blown out of their nests during storms as well, and even though they may appear to be alone and distressed or in need of help, an adult animal will often find and care for them.
Biologists say it can actually be more stressful on young wildlife if people try to help.
"It's good when well-meaning sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts want to help, but sometimes the best help we can offer young wildlife is to leave them alone and let nature run its course," Hickman said.
In most cases, it also is illegal to pick up wildlife. Log on to www.wildlifedepartment.com for more information about wildlife conservation in Oklahoma.

May 29, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Surveyors seek species at southern Oklahoma WMA
Knowing what species are present in a particular area is important both now and in the future. To that end, a team from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is engaged in a yearlong species survey at the Cross Timbers Wildlife Management Area in Love County.
The effort is being conducted by the Wildlife Diversity Program, which includes Mark Howery, a wildlife diversity biologist with ODWC.
"We're not just going on bird-watching trips," Howery said. "The point is to document the presence or absence of species and their relative abundance in ways that can be repeated over time to detect broad changes in populations."
He said surveyors ideally could return in 10 or 20 years to the same area to see whether they find any dramatic differences in the species present in the area.
The Cross Timbers species survey is the first such survey in quite a few years. From 2002 to 2005, Howery said species surveys were conducted on Beaver River, Sandy Sanders, Spavinaw and Pushmataha wildlife management areas. But over time, the surveys were discontinued.
Now, a new survey team has begun work at Cross Timbers WMA.
Howery said the goal is to conduct at least six surveys on-site during the calendar year. So far, surveys have been done in February, March, April and May. Another is planned in June. Then one will be done in July or August, and finally one in the fall. He said he makes it a point not to conduct any surveys during important times when hunters are likely to be using the area.
Cross Timbers potentially contains about 200 vertebrate species within its 8,200 acres in southern Oklahoma, Howery said. The survey team attempts to document the various birds, fish, amphibians, and small and large mammals by using techniques that can be repeated later, such as setting out traps for a specific amount of time.
Howery said the biologists and technicians assigned to oversee the Cross Timbers area often help with the surveys. They play a big part in the success of the surveys because they are most familiar with the area.
ODWC technician Kelly Adams participated in the survey conducted April 1-2. "During this survey, we discovered that Strecker's chorus frogs and Great Plains narrow-mouthed toads exist on the WMA.
"Years from now, if we can't find those species, then we know something has changed," Adams said.
Howery said finding the Strecker's chorus frog was a bit of a surprise, as it is the first time that species has been documented in Love County. He also said finding a Great Plains narrow-mouthed toad during the April survey was somewhat rare.
"The area has a good population of fox sparrows and spotted towhees. White-eyed vireos and painted buntings are common breeding birds there," he said.
In conducting surveys, the team members use several techniques. For birds, a "point count" is employed. This technique places a surveyor at a point, and the surveyor then counts every bird seen or heard in a given amount of time.
For frogs, surveyors usually will conduct a "calling" survey at night. They listen and record any frogs heard, and note the dates and temperatures so surveys can be repeated.
Baited traps are used to assess smaller mammals, and tracks along roadsides are recorded to account for larger mammals present at the site.

 

May 30, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Altus-Lugert Lake suffering impact of golden algae blooms
Altus-Lugert Lake in southwest Oklahoma experienced a significant fish kill in late winter (lasting from December 2012 through February 2013) caused by a golden algae bloom. Officials from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) are currently discerning the severity of the kill.
ODWC completed a four-day survey at Altus-Lugert April 25 with gill nets and by electrofishing. During this survey, no fish were caught. In ordinary surveys, ODWC would expect to capture about 1,000 fish in an effort of this size. It would appear that Altus-Lugert Lake is no longer a viable fishery.
"While this is certainly disappointing, ODWC is going to do what we can to bring back the fishery. Right now we are evaluating our options, which include re-introducing forage fish such as shad and bluegill into the lake this spring and stocking sport fish to see if that is successful. It will be dependent on a decline in golden algae toxicity," said Larry Cofer, southwest region fisheries supervisor for ODWC.
It is also likely that fish will return to the lake from upstream ponds and the river as toxicity from golden algae declines. The ODWC will continue to sample the lake for golden algae and fish to confirm and report the possible return of fish to the lake.
While golden algae are naturally occurring, they have the potential to produce blooms that are toxic to gill-breathing organisms and turtles. Factors such as water quality, cooler water temperatures, nutrients in the water, salt concentrations, low rain levels and low amounts of healthy green algae create favorable conditions for a golden algae bloom.
Drinking water is a concern in lakes when there is a fish kill. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has reviewed the operation of the City of Altus Public Water Supply and determined that this golden algae bloom should have no effect to the drinking water. Altus-Lugert Lake is one source of drinking water for the City of Altus, Oklahoma. At the current time, Altus is NOT using its intake structure located in this lake. DEQ is working closely with the City of Altus to ensure the safety of drinking water supplied to its residents.
"DEQ encourages recreating on Oklahoma's many lakes, rivers and streams. We also want to remind people that to be safe in any body of water, people should never pick up dead or dying fish for consumption. It is also very important to be mindful of water conditions," said DEQ Executive Director Steve Thompson.
DEQ reminds swimmers of the precautions to take to reduce exposure to waterborne micro-organisms:

  • Avoid swimming in polluted water (oil sheen, floating debris, and dead fish are visible signs of polluted water) 
  • Avoid swimming in stagnant (unmoving) water 
  • Avoid swimming in water with a temperature greater than 80°F (If water does not feel cool when you first enter, it is likely to be warmer than 80°F.) 
  • Avoid swimming in water with a green surface scum 
  • Avoid swimming after a heavy rain 
  • Avoid swimming near storm drains 
  • Avoid swallowing water while swimming 
  • Hold nose or wear nose plugs when jumping into water 
  • Wear ear plugs 
  • Wear swim goggles 
  • Wash cuts and scrapes with clean water and soap 
  • Shower before and after swimming 
  • Take children to the restroom frequently 
  • Use swim diapers on infants.

Additional information can be found at http://www.deq.state.ok.us/factsheets/water/swimming.pdf.
ODWC urges boaters and anglers on Altus-Lugert and other lakes to clean boats, live wells and fishing gear to help reduce the chance of golden algae spreading to other lakes.
ODWC is working with DEQ and other state agencies as well as fish biologists from other states to develop methods to control golden algae blooms. Currently, research and monitoring is being done to better understand golden algae.


May 31, 2013
A service of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife Department stocks Florida strain largemouth bass in Clear Creek and Humphreys
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has found a resourceful way to positively influence bass populations in two Duncan area lakes. Biologists recently released a number of adult pure Florida strain largemouth bass into Clear Creek and Humphreys lakes. The fish are "retired" adult brood fish from the Department's Durant State Fish Hatchery.
According to Ryan Ryswyk, southwest region fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department, the stockings are not intended to increase the overall bass numbers in the lakes, but rather to introduce genetic influences.
"We know that bass populations are determined by habitat, and stocking bass will not increase population size," Ryswyk said. "But by stocking Florida bass, we can influence the genetics of the population that already exists."
The Wildlife Department operates its Florida bass stocking program as a way to increase the likelihood for anglers to catch big bass, since the Florida strain grows considerably larger than native strains when given good habitat and growing conditions. Normal procedure involves stocking Florida strain fingerling fish of only 1-2 inches in length into public waters on a rotating schedule. The introduced genetics influence populations and results in bigger fish. However, due to limitations of time and space, Department hatcheries cannot raise enough fingerling Florida strain largemouth bass each year to be stocked in every suitable lake.
Since these two Duncan lakes may only receive Florida strain fingerling stockings every three to five years, stocking the retired adult brooders is a viable option for influencing existing populations with Florida strain genetics.
"Stocking adult bass is not common practice or necessary in Oklahoma, but by bringing in new brood fish to the hatchery and retiring others, these two lakes now have a chance to get Florida genetics sooner than expected," Ryswyk said. "The adult Florida bass that are stocked in these lakes will spawn with native bass, creating what are known as 'F1s. These F1s will have the Florida genetics needed to grow to a large size as well as the native genetics to survive at cooler wintertime temperatures."
Native largemouth bass are found in almost every reservoir in the state. Oklahoma's state record largemouth bass, caught March 13 of this year from Cedar Lake in southeast Oklahoma, weighed over 14 pounds. Cedar Lake has a history of receiving Florida strain largemouth bass through the stocking program.