Goin’ With The Floe

Weekly news, tips, trivia, fun facts and wild tales from the outdoors

March 2, 2005

Goin’ With The Floe

Forget Puxatawny Phil. The real hardcore, outdoors-type folks know that it’s a sure sign that spring can’t be too far away when ice fishermen need to be rescued from 10-mile-long ice floes on Lake Erie. Those dogwoods and redbud trees will be blooming any day now! Also this week, you’ll find reports on a study about the most innovative birds, the impact of hunters’ dollars in the West, and a remembrance of one of waterfowl conservation’s leading figures.

March Icebreaker

About 30 ice fishermen were rescued from Lake Erie last week after becoming stranded on a huge chunk of ice that broke away and drifted about four miles from shore.

J.R. Absher

An enormous ice floe, measuring nearly 10 miles across, broke away during a strong southwesterly wind east of Toledo on Friday afternoon.

Authorities said 15 ice anglers were able to get across the ice safely using ATVs and snowmobiles. But 15 others, who were stranded a mile from shore, had to be ferried back by more than 50 rescuers from several different agencies.

One fisherman initially used a cell phone to alert the Coast Guard to the situation. Crews used boats and a helicopter to shuttle the anglers — and one dog — back to shore. Most of the fishermen were forced to leave their all-terrain vehicles, fishing shanties and the rest of their gear behind on the free-floating ice.

No injuries were reported. A subsequent report by the involved agencies said the rescue cost taxpayers about $35,000.

Being Bird-Brained Is Relative

Crows, jays, falcons, herons and woodpeckers show some of the highest avian IQ scores in an index utilized by a Canadian researcher. Dr Louis Lefebvre of McGill University in Montreal created a bird intelligence index based on 2,000 reports of “feeding innovations” observed in the wild and published in ornithology journals over a period of 75 years.

According to Lefebvre’s study, the most skilled tool-using birds are New Caledonian crows that fashion specially shaped implements out of leaves to catch insects. He also cites the reports of “fly-fishing” herons that catch insects and place them — lure-like — on the surface of a stream to attract fish, and then move them to other locations if nothing takes the bait.

Dr. Lefebvre said that many of the novel feeding behaviors he included in the work were mundane, but every once in a while, birds could be spectacularly inventive about obtaining their food.

As an example, during the war of liberation in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, a soldier and avid bird watcher observed vultures sitting on fences beside mine fields, patiently waiting for gazelles and other herbivores to wander by and soon be blown into tasty, bite-sized vulture morsels.

Dr Lefebvre noted that certain types of hawks use similar associative behavior for food gathering. Attracted by the noise of gunshots, the ferruginous hawk, native to the Western United States, preys on prairie dogs left behind by hunters.

And the least intelligent birds? Not making the smart list were the emu, ostrich, and not surprisingly, the pigeon.

Colorado Hunters Spend Most In West

According to a wide-ranging study performed every five years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some 13 million hunters spent $20.6 billion on hunting trips and equipment in 2001 — an increase of 29 percent from 1991.

A companion report by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, estimated the overall economic impact of hunting dollars at $67 billion, by factoring in the ripple effects of such spending through the economy.

In the West, Colorado hunters spent the most, laying out $383 million in 2001.

Elsewhere in the West, hunters in Oregon spent $365 million; Washington, $350 million; California, $315 million; and Utah, $292 million. In Montana, hunters spent $238 million; Idaho, $231 million; Alaska, $217 million; Arizona, $212 million; New Mexico, $153 million; Nevada $134 million; and Wyoming, $123 million.

Almanac: The Godfather Of Waterfowl

Conservationists throughout the country mourned the loss of one of waterfowling’s most influential men, as Frank Bellrose passed away last week at the age of 88. He left a legacy that includes more than 60 years of waterfowl and wetlands study, primarily in the Midwest.

Bellrose is perhaps best known for his conservation work with wood ducks. In fact, he is credited with the development of the now-popular predator-proof wood duck nesting boxes in the late 1930s, when the species was severely threatened. Wood duck breeding biology, population dynamics, and evaluations of various types of nesting houses became a career-long project for Bellrose.

By the early 1900s, many wild birds and game animals were on the decline due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting. Many bottomland forests, where wood ducks made their homes in hollow trees, were logged and the land drained and farmed. In the days before hunting regulations, resident wood ducks were targets nearly year-round.

Under Bellrose’s direction, government work crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps erected the first artificial nesting structures at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana, Ill.

In his lifetime of conservation work, Bellrose published more than 110 scientific and popular articles. His book, “Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America,” was published in 1976 and has sold more than 350,000 copies. His latest book, co-authored with Daniel Holm, “Ecology and Management of the Wood Duck,” was published in 1994. Both books received The Wildlife Society’s Book Publication of the Year Award.

Quote Of The Week

“A rural adage holds that ‘God made March to kill cows and old people.’ Certainly March can be trying. Neither spring, precisely, nor winter, it tantalizes, then turns and bites. The morning after a day of warmth and sunshine finds us cringing to our woodstoves as wind rakes the eaves and snow pelts the window. But the menace of March is overstated. It is an excellent month in which to undertake certain activities, none of them fashionable or remunerative or terribly significant, but all providing a balm for the winter-weary soul.”

-Charles Fergus

“God Made March,” 1991

J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in numerous national publications. Visit his Web sites, The Outdoor Pressroom (www.outdoorpressroom.com and The Outdoor Weblog www.outdoorweblog.com ) to find the latest outdoor news of interest. He offers his unique perspective of the outdoors weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You may contact him at jrabsher@outdoorpressroom.com.

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