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Outdoors Report: Be kind, don’t feed the birds
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OUTDOORS REPORT

Outdoors Report: Be kind, don’t feed the birds

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Much fuss is being made about a pigeon that made its way from Oregon all the way to Australia over the last few months. The world famous pigeon went missing during a race in late October before popping up in the land down under, some 8,100-miles from its intended finish line.

It is believed the bird hitched a ride on a cargo ship on it’s oceanic voyage, but that fact is up for debate. What’s more, the bird was reportedly discovered near Melbourne by a man with the perfect surname — Kevin Celli-Bird. According to Celli-Bird, his namesake was busy drinking and bathing in a backyard fountain when it was discovered and he even fed the wayward racing bird a ration of biscuits.

But there was no hero’s welcome for the pigeon once it was determined that it had come from the United States. Even for a pigeon, Australian authorities deemed the bird too dirty to leave up to its old pond hopping antics, especially during the age of global pandemics, so they’ve determined the best course of action is to kill it.

This isn’t the first time the Australian government has acted with a heavy hand, or trigger finger, when it comes to wayward birds. In fact, in 1932, the Aussies embarked on a campaign that became known as the Emu Wars.

As the story goes, a great drought led a mass congregation of the giant birds to roam far and wide in search of water and food. When the onslaught of 20,000 five-foot tall fowl encroached on the country’s sprawling wheat fields the government knew just what to do — send in the machine guns.

But the big birds didn’t go down without a fight. According to reports from the field the birds seemed to vanish into thin air when fired upon, and even when bullets did find their mark the damage rarely dropped the birds. As a result of guerrilla skills of the avian army, the first offensive was called off in order to regroup and draw up another plan.

While repeat offensives proved to be slightly more effective, the emus never surrendered and the government ultimately created a bounty program in order to take their troops off the front lines of a war that would now pit farmers against fowl.

Of course, these aren’t the only cases of unintended consequences for our fine feathered friends. Right here, in backyards across the Pacific Northwest, reports of dead birds near bird feeders have been stacking up like, well, dead birds around dirty bird feeders.

“When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian, Kristin Mansfield, in a press release.

On Monday, concern within the WDFW reached a critical mass and led the agency to ask the public to take down their precious bird feeders and empty their treasured bird baths. That action was sparked by reports of dead birds ranging from Thurston County to Snohomish County. The cause of the die offs is believed to be an outbreak of salmonellosis (caused by salmonella bacteria) and the spread hasn’t shown any signs of stopping.

“At this point, it looks like we’re getting reports from all over, even as far as Idaho,” said Staci Lehman, a spokesperson for WDFW, told The Daily News on Thursday.

The most commonly affected species so far seem to be finches like pine siskins and an assortment of songbirds. According to Lehman, the last time a rash of backyard bird deaths generated a plea to the public from the WDFW was more than a decade ago.

“It had been awhile but it does appear that these happen from time to time,” Lehman added. “We haven’t had anyone sit down to study trends yet.”

This time around a population explosion of winter-roaming finches has caught the blame. Those birds usually overwinter in the great hinterlands of Canada, but occasionally they decide to stay south of the international border, and that’s where the problems begin.

“The first indication of the disease for bird watchers to look for is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder. The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach. This kind of behavior is generally uncommon to birds,” Mansfield explained. “Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them. The best course (is) to leave the birds alone.”

Although it may seem counterintuitive, state wildlife managers insist that the best way to protect wild birds this winter is to stash that feeder in the attic and turn the bird bath upside down. The hope behind the seemingly cold-hearted move is that it will encourage birds to disperse across a greater range rather than flocking to the same bread line as their infected neighbors.

“Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while also using backyard bird feeders, so they should be fine without the feeders,” Mansfield added.

For those bird lovers who simply can’t bring themselves to empty the bird baths and beyond, the WDFW has several suggestions. First, veterinarians recommend cleaning feeders daily with warm and soapy water and then rinsing with a solution of bleach water. The feeder should then be dried completely before refilling, and the ground below the feeder should be kept free of bird droppings and spent seed casings.

Anyone who finds dead birds is asked to report them to the WDFW online at https://tinyurl.com/yy4mvb3s. Since salmonella bacteria can be transferred from birds to humans the WDFW advises the public to avoid handling birds if possible.

FISHIN’

Salmon fishing continues on the Columbia River and many of its tributaries but weather conditions have conspired to washout most piscatorial prospects for the second week in a row. Regardless of the odds, anglers are currently allowed to keep up to six salmonids per day, of which two may be adults, between Buoy 10 and the I-5 Bridge in Vancouver. Only hatchery Chinook and steelhead may be retained.

Last week the WDFW resumed its creel sampling program and spent their first week checking anglers exclusively on the Cowlitz River. The news? Steelhead are on the move.

From the I-5 Bridge near Toledo down to the mouth of the Cowlitz two dozen bank anglers kept one steelhead and released one more steely. From the freeway up to the Barrier Dam another 30 bank rods were skunked, but 31 rods on 11 boats were able to keep five steelhead while releasing two cutthroat trout.

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Last week at the Cowlitz salmon hatchery crews retrieved 1,058 returning coho adults, 106 coho jacks, 25 winter-run steelhead adults, eight summer-run steelhead adults, and two cutthroat trout. On Monday, Tacoma Power reported river flow near the outflow of Mayfield Dam at around 12,700 cubic feet per second with visibility of nine feet and a temperature of 45.7 degrees Fahrenheit. By Thursday that flow had increased to about 14,600 cfps.

Catch-and-keep fishing for sturgeon is still an option on the Columbia River for a limited time, but anglers will have to head all the way to the John Day Pool since Bonneville and The Dalles reached their catch quota last week. Last week at John Day anglers caught an estimated 37 sturgeon. That represents about 35 percent of the fish allotted for harvest during the fishery. Anglers are allowed to keep white sturgeon measuring at least 43 inches in fork length but no longer than 54 inches.

While they were on the water in search of the river monsters many anglers tried to increase their odds by targeting walleye at the same time. According to WDFW sampling stats from John Day last week, 59 rods on 25 boats kept 121 walleye and released a dozen more.

There were no area lakes or ponds that received deposits of hatchery trout or surplus steelhead in the last week.

HUNTIN’

A promising survey of winter goose populations has paved the way for extended brant hunting opportunities in Pacific county on Jan. 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30 and 31. However, smaller populations of geese in Clallam, Whatcom and Skagit counties will limit hunters in those areas to just three more open days this winter(Jan. 16, 20, 23).

“We conducted aerial brant counts in Skagit County that indicate numbers fell short of our 6,000-bird requirement for an eight-day season,” said Kyle Spragens, WDFW waterfowl section manager, noted in a press release. “The reduced schedule is necessary to restrict harvest of western high arctic brant, which primarily overwinter in Skagit County.”

It’s important to remember that a special permit is required before bagging honkers in Goose Management Area 2. Additionally, in GMA 2 (Coastal), which includes Pacific County and the portion of Grays Harbor County west of Highway 101, goose hunting is allowed only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. In GMA 2 (Inland), which includes the section of Grays Harbor County east of Highway 101, goose hunting is open Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only through Sunday.

Hunters in Washington and Oregon have through the end of January to submit reports for tags taken out in their name last year. Failure to file a report, regardless of success, can result in a fine when it comes time to purchase a new hunting license. In Washington, reports must be submitted for each black bear, deer, elk, or turkey tag. In Oregon reports are required for every deer, elk, bear, cougar, turkey and pronghorn tag.

Hunters in Washington were already enticed to report early by the promise of being entered into a drawing for a special hunting permit, Likewise, Oregonians who file on time will be eligible for a special permit drawing, but they are also encouraged to file their reports early so they don’t have to waste time on hold.

“We don’t want to see any customers kept on hold, especially when reporting can easily be completed online,” says Justin Dion, ODFW assistant wildlife biologist, in a press release. “If you can’t set up an online account, visit any vendor that sells hunting and fishing licenses to report your hunt.”

Last year, Richard McCurter of St. Helens, Oregon, drew a special tag as a reward for his punctual reporting and wound up taking a bull elk from the Wenaha Unit as his prize.

HAWKIN’

The WDFW is seeking public comment on the status of Ferruginous hawks as part of a regular check up on birds in peril.

Since 1974, breeding populations of Ferruginous hawks have been known to be in a sustained decline. With that in mind, the WDFW has recommended that the hawks status be changed from threatened to endangered in the Evergreen State.

“Ferruginous Hawks have been in trouble for decades. Factors involved include loss and degradation of nesting and foraging habitat, and associated reductions to populations of their primary prey species,” explained Taylor Cotten, Conservation Assessment Section Manager at WDFW, in a press release.

Ferruginous hawks are the largest hawk in North America and are most common in open country grasslands and shrub-steppe environments. Loss of habitat has been a primary factory in their decline over the last several decades.

A cull copy of the draft periodic status review of Ferruginous hawks can be reviewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02210. Written comments can be sent to WDFW by email to, TandEpubliccom@dfw.wa.gov, or by postal service to Taylor Cotten, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504-3200.

SNOWIN’

The big dump of powder on area ski slopes may have been a little too good over the last weeks as lift operators have had to start turning powder heads away for lack of socially distant space on the mountainside.

At White Pass all daily lift tickets are already sold out for Saturday and Sunday. That means that unless you’ve already got your ticket, or are a season ticket holder, you’ll have to find another location to scratch that fresh powder itch.

On Thursday afternoon two new inches of snow had fallen in the previous 12 hours and three inches had stacked up over the previous day. That snowfall brought the base depth up to 76 inches near the summit and 39 inches closer to the base. The Nordic ski area will remain open Friday through Sunday this week and the tubing area will be open at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, with 9:30 a.m. starts scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

At Mt. Hood Meadows on Thursday no new snow fell and only one inch had accumulated in the previous 48 hours. Still, Mt. Hood’s meadows have packed up 119 inches of snow in the mid elevations this season with around 76 inches of snow stacked up closer to the base.

Night skiing runs are currently operating in addition to day runs, but all daily lift tickets must be purchased in advance.

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