I drove by a bald eagle nest the other day, and then another and another. It wasn't my intention, as it was actually a route I drive on a pretty regular basis. I've known about all three of the nests for a number of years, and there is only about 40 miles in total distance between them.
The extended winter or late spring has delayed some migrations, and even though two whooping cranes were verified in North Dakota on March 29, it will probably still be later in April before all of these birds have worked their way through the state. Whenever that occurs, it's likely that I will have gone another year without seeing one of these endangered birds alive in the wild.
As I type, there is snow accumulating on the ground. Yes, the calendar reads April, and North Dakota's spring light goose conservation order opened Feb. 17. The good news is the season continues through May 13, and this spring, preparation and scouting are as important as ever. Not many birds have yet crossed the North Dakota border, and when the time comes, the flocks likely pass will through in a hurry.
One advantage for North Dakota anglers is the state's fishing season for gamefish is open year-round. That said, though, there is a beginning and end to the fishing license period, and that occurs April 1, as it does for hunting and trapping licenses. So, if you want to fish starting April 1, you need to get that new 2018-19 license. Another benchmark for April 1 this year is that a new fishing proclamation goes into effect. North Dakota's fishing regulations cover a two-year period, so this year's changes apply through March 31, 2020.
Even though the odds of drawing a moose, elk or bighorn sheep license in North Dakota are not high, you can't get one if you don't apply. Year in and year out, I field many calls and emails from prospective hunters about how they might improve those odds, such as applying for a cow license vs. a bull or "any" license in a particular unit. This information from the previous year also is available on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov when you apply for a moose, elk or sheep license.
In 2015, the North Dakota Legislature passed a law that required the state Game and Fish Department to develop an all-electronic licensing system and phase out the old paper license books. That went into effect April 1, 2016. Another part of that plan was to eventually phase out paper applications for lottery licenses, which includes spring and fall turkey, deer gun, swan, pronghorn and moose, elk and sheep. That transition is in progress now, as only moose, elk and sheep this month, and then deer gun and muzzleloader in June, remain to complete the move to online only.
A few weeks ago, I did my little part of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's midwinter waterfowl survey, as I've done years in the past, and which biologists across the nation do each year. Friends wonder, why count ducks and geese in January? The midwinter waterfowl survey is a nationwide effort to assess winter distribution and abundance of waterfowl across North America. It got its start in the 1930s, and for awhile it was a major source of information for developing hunting regulations until breeding ground surveys were initiated in 1955.
The National Archery in the Schools Program took root in North Dakota in 2005, not long after its successful launch in Kentucky a couple of years earlier. Since then, the program has grown consistently. In North Dakota in 2017, more than 100 schools and thousands of students participated, culminating in a state tournament that has broken attendance records several years in a row.
It's been interesting to watch and learn about the movement of moose within North Dakota. In the not so distant past, moose were mostly found in the wooded Turtle Mountains or Pembina Gorge areas of north central and northeastern North Dakota. In the last 12 years, moose numbers have declined in the Pembina Hills area. Aerial wildlife counts conducted by Game and Fish biologists note that about 250 moose were spotted in that region in 1995, but only two cow moose were observed in the survey areas flown in 2017.
The North Dakota spring turkey license application period is open right now, and for most hunters, the process will be business as usual. For spring turkey last year, and for all other lottery licenses in 2017, nearly 90 percent of prospective hunters submitted their applications online. The other 10 percent filled out and mailed in a paper application, but that option is no longer available this year, as the state Game and Fish Department continues its transition of all licenses and applications to its electronic system.