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Birds: 8 - Hunters: 0: Christmas bird counters clash with illegal hunters 

click to enlarge natural_world_duckhunters-hatfield1.jpg

Saturday, December 19, was the official day for the annual National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), an event that's been going on for more than 100 years. Participants throughout the U.S., Canada and 19 other countries in the Western Hemisphere count birds in a 15-mile circle. Armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, the volunteers join scientists in this long-term conservation project, identifying and recording different species.

The Bend count circle is centered at Pioneer Park and covers an area south from the Arnold District near Knott Landfill, north to Hatfield Lakes, the sewage effluent ponds beyond the airport. Most CBC participants have been counting a specific area for several years, as is the case of a mom and her son from Bend. (Names withheld to protect the innocent.) She and her son have been doing the Hatfield Lakes area since the kid was in diapers, and most always come in with the highest counts for waterfowl. But things were different this year - illegal duck-hunters got there first.

The son painted the picture clearly:

When we got there on Saturday, it was about 9:00 a.m., but there weren't any birds on the ponds, except for 19 Bufflehead which were on the section of water farthest from a group of duck hunters.

The hunters were standing to one side of the place where the water spills into the pond through the concrete channel.Therewere three of them and a dog.Each of the hunters was dressed in full camouflage and one was carrying a camo shotgun. Two of them had ducks swinging from their belts and their dog was retrieving another mallard from the water.They had 15-20 decoys on the water, which were surprisingly realistic looking.

After my mom talked to the non-emergency police contact, she yelled across the pond and told the hunters, "You're not allowed to hunt here; it's illegal! You should know that I've called the police!"

They yelled back, but I didn't make out any of what they said.

Hatfield Lakes is posted, "No Hunting - No Trespassing" The CBC bird counters have to get permission from the city of Bend every year to enter the lake area.

The duck-hunters, on the other hand, took things into their own hands and did what some eager-beaver hunters do - and by so doing, give all hunters a bad name - cut the wires on the back side of Hatfield Lakes, sneaked in illegally along with their retriever, put out the decoys, and started blasting away. "No Hunting - No Trespassing" didn't mean a thing to them.

The mom says:

It was uncomfortable being around hunters, who were yelling and waving their arms at us. Counting more decoys than live ducks and seeing ducks shot by them slung over their shoulders was discouraging. We stood next to a "No Hunting" sign on a tree while Joe tookthe photos and they were yelling back at us.

I think the fact that another woman appeared out there at the same time we were talking to the troopers helped. She was intending to walk her dogs and told them that she was finding hunters nearly every visit and was intimidated by them and had tried to complain but didn't get to the right person or source as things didn't change. However, the troopers did act on it on Monday morning and it worked. The story I heard was that eight hunters were located and they had parked near where they had clipped a fence and entered illegally.

We tried to do a "count week" bird count on Monday, but the disturbance from the hunters had just finished, as there were no birds on the pond, not even decoys this time. I do feel that the troopers and the manager did what is needed, just too bad we have these troubles - poor birds get slammed from every direction.

In spite of trespassing duck-hunters, the Bend CBC came out with a total of 1,522 Mallards, 1,561 Canada Geese (which will probably will cause the Bend Parks & Wreck people to shudder - thinking of all that goose poop), nine trumpeter swans, three greater white-fronted geese, 2 cackling geese, and 154 American wigeons, among them, 1 Eurasian widgeon.

Unfortunately, European starlings are on the increase. There were more than 1,000 of them with some 400 mourning doves, and right along with them, our next "starlings," 15 alien Eurasian collard doves.

The raptor count came up with numbers that will make ranchers and farmers feel good, a total of 75 red-tailed hawks were rodent hunting throughout the count circle. The 10 big American bald eagles gave the team that counted them a thrill, and 18 diminutive American kestrels (smallest of our falcons) were counted along with three merlin, seven Cooper's hawks, 18 sharp-shinned hawks and two prairie falcons. All these, along with the "dicky birds" gave a total of 74 species and 12,273 individuals for the Bend CBC.

Now, if we could just get those rogue duck hunters to obey the law...

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