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Hunting improves on bird refuges

  Weather lends a hand; botulism outbreak gone
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 11/6/13
     TULE LAKE REFUGE — After opening day of waterfowl season at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge was delayed two weeks by the partial government shutdown, the start of season has been successful, said biologist Stacy Freitas.

   “Considering everything, it’s been a good year. We’ve had good take averages and the hunter numbers have been good,” Freitas said. “On a typical Saturday, there are probably about 500 hunters between (Tule Lake and Lower Klamath) refuges.”

   Freitas said environmental conditions for waterfowl are good, despite having less water due to drought and water allocations earlier this year. A flyover on Nov. 1, conducted by Jim Hainline for the USFWS, revealed nearly 100,000 birds are currently in the refuge.

   According to Jim Szemenei, co-owner of Wild Times Guide Service, when the season opened in mid-October, weather conditions were not favorable for hunting. He said the recent transition into winter weather has improved hunting at the refuge.

   “If we have bad weather, like wind and rain, the hunting will continue to be good,” Szemenei said.

   A one-day youth and ladies special waterfowl hunt canceled during the shutdown is being held this weekend. On Saturday, women and youth under 15 years of age can hunt ducks and geese later than the daily cutoff time at 1 p.m.

   “It’s usually a really good shoot. At this point in the season, birds are conditioned that the hunters leave at 1 p.m., so they’ll come out and feed after that,” Freitas said.  

   According to Freitas, about 250 bird species migrate to or live in the refuge and neighboring Lower Klamath Refuge. Waterfowl in season now include mallard ducks, canvasback, green-winged teal, Northern pintail, gadwall and geese.

   This year, poor environmental conditions and lack of water at the Tule refuge led to a botulism outbreak that resulted in at least 5,000 dead birds, Freitas said. She added that the number of animals collected by staff and volunteers reflected about one third of the total birds affected by the illness.

   Game birds at the refuge are now considered safe for table fare, Freitas said.

   “By the time hunting   season came around, the botulism outbreak was gone and the birds that have recovered are healthy,” she said.

   Freitas added that waterfowl hunting should remain good until Thanksgiving, when the wetland water begins freezing.

   Dare Stolba traveled from Redding, Calif., to the refuge to hunt waterfowl this week. Stolba said the conditions — early morning snow, clouds, and rain — led him and his son to harvest the maximum limit of seven birds each in less than three hours.  

   “The weather dictates everything up here,” he said. “A lot of times you’ll be out here until 1 p.m. and only shoot six birds.”

   The California general pheasant season opens Saturday, and runs through Dec. 22.

   According to Freitas, the pheasant population at the Tule Lake National Wildlife refuge is entirely made up of wild birds, which makes them more challenging to hunt than birds bred for sport.

   “If hunters come out and they have a trained dog, their chances are good — especially the first week of the season,” she said.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  

  H&N photo by Lacey Jarrell

   Biologist Stacy Freitas checks Dare Stolba’s waterfowl harvest at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Stolba called the hunting “excellent” and said he and his son filled their limit of seven birds each in three hours.



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