By JIM ABRAMS
There are times that Field Notes’ readers contact me with questions, comments or just to say they enjoy reading the weekly column. Occasionally I’ll receive a story or question that adds special flavor or twist to what I’ve written. In this case, Craig Anderson wrote concerning the plummeting ruffed grouse population that I wrote about in the July 13 edition of The Courier.
While living in northeast Ohio around 1980, Craig was impressed with the number of grouse he’d encountered. A friend told him this would change because of growing turkey populations.
“The growth of the wild turkey population will kill off the grouse. Grouse nest on the ground, and turkeys eat whatever they can find on the ground … fruits and nuts and insects, yes, but also grouse eggs and hatchlings,” his friend explained.
Craig wanted to know if I thought this was a potential problem.
I’ve heard this story for a long time along with the attached names of individuals that were claimed to have shot turkeys on sight. There isn’t a wildlife officer in the nation that wouldn’t relish tossing the book at these folks.
So is there any fact behind the rumor? How did it start?
The buzz was birthed through the grumblings of grouse hunters who often felt that the advent of the turkey would bring more pressure (hunters) into areas they enjoyed hunting, but what they failed to recognize was the maturing landscape around them.
The developing maturation of timberland and the propensity of landowners in both the public and private sectors for clearing successional areas around the margins of forested tracts have been the pathway of destruction for grouse territory. The result has been plummeting prime successional grouse habitat, yet it remains a home that the wild turkey population will still readily use. Hence the rumor: “Once there were grouse, now we have turkeys.”
That adage should really read: “Once we had grouse habitat that also held turkeys, but now we have turkey habitat that is unsuitable for grouse.”
While there’s certainly the possibility of a turkey disturbing a grouse nest, that would be very rare and that scant chance far pales in the face of what raccoons, mink, skunks, opossums and other foraging critters dish out on the birds. Even so, the rumor is persistent … I’ve heard it for years and will likely hear it again, regardless of the facts and research.
Dr. James Earl Kennamer, one of the country’s foremost experts on wild turkeys, states: “When turkeys started increasing around the country, quail declined and grouse declined, and people thought turkeys must be causing it.
“I’ve been studying wild turkeys for 40 years, and that is totally unfounded. Turkeys do not go and destroy nests; it’s just not in their repertoire. When I hear or read about people saying turkeys are destroying nests of other birds, I ask repeatedly who saw it. To this date, there is zero response of actual evidence.
“Pheasant, grouse and quail populations have declined … because they have a narrow window of habitat and diet that they’re able to thrive in, whereas turkeys can adapt to different habitat and have a lot of variety in their diet,” Kennamer explains.
Like most species in the world, habitat remains the main controlling factor in their population health. It doesn’t matter if we are looking at monarch butterflies, pheasants, brook trout or elephants … the basic issues remain the same. They all need the appropriate food, water, shelter and space.
“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy — it is already too late for that — but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.” — Aldo Leopold
Along the way:
Tamara (Wyckoff) Luchini, a longtime resident of Findlay, has also reached out to me concerning the column published in the July 6 edition of The Courier. That article concerned the famous Adams fly used by fly fishermen throughout North America. Proving that it’s indeed a small world, Tamara explained that she is the great-granddaughter of Len Halladay, the famous fly’s originator whose story I told.
Her father, Ken Wyckoff, is the oldest surviving grandson of Halladay at 96 years young. Tamara remembers sitting beside Halladay’s desk and watching him create many of the beautiful patterns used to lure trout to the net, undoubtedly seeing him tie the very Adams fly upon which the story was centered.
As if channeling legendary Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story,” Tamara explained the history behind the history.
“When Dad read your article … he commented that it ‘wasn’t quite right.’ As Dad remembers Grandpa Len telling the story of creating the Adams fly, Len had already been making and testing that particular fly for some time before Judge Charles Adams asked Len for a bait to use for trout on the Boardman River. Grandpa gave Adams his fairly new, unnamed fly to try.
“Judge Adams had such success that he came back and asked to purchase a dozen of them to take home to Ohio. Grandpa Len gave his friend the flies and, when asked what the name was, said: ‘Well, let’s call it the Adams fly,'” Tamara explained as she unfolded the years.
As happens with many discoveries and inventions, after the fly gained its quickly mounting popularity a young man stepped forward to claim that he was the originator. This didn’t set well with the Halladay clan. Luckily, it didn’t turn into anything like the Hatfield and McCoy feud.
Ken Wyckoff laughingly remembers his aunt, a sister of Halladay, expounding, “That boy only went fishing … because his mother insisted, and that boy was much more interested in my sister than he ever was in the fish!”
As a high-schooler, I remember fishing a particular pond for similar reasons … huh …
While the fly’s inception is celebrated in Kingsley, Michigan, the nearby community of Mayfield was where Len Halladay lived when he created the famous Adams, so the real gold is buried in Mayfield’s history. While a few might be miffed that the fly’s heritage was somewhat co-opted, it’s certainly true that it was fished very close by on the Boardman River.
Even though the location of the festival may not exactly portray the Adams fly and its creator’s Mayfield origination, the Halladay clan is quite content with the increased publicity for Grandpa Len’s work. Tamara adds that she believes that Len Halladay’s fly-tying desk now resides in a museum in Traverse City.
The Kingsley Adams Fly Festival has also gotten the nod from 93-year-young Edna Sargeant from one of the original “founding families” of Mayfield. Edna remains friends of the Halladay and Wyckoff families, and she also doubles as the historian of the communities while attending the festival. I’ll even bet she remembers who that boy was that was chasing the Halladay girl.
You can watch “Grandpa’s Story, The Adams Fly,” the story of Len Halladay, narrated by his grandson John Falk, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNIinE5J9QY Learn how the son of a Civil War veteran took a bit of feathers, fur and wire and transformed those disparate items and himself into historical icons of the sporting world.
• Beginning fly fishing clinics, Castalia Fish Hatchery. Sessions are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, Sept. 6, Sept. 13 and Sept. 20. Each person who registers may bring one guest to participate. Register at https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/educationregistration/. The hatchery is located in Erie County off Ohio 269, near Castalia.
• July 28: Mixed target archery shoot, registration opens 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.
• July 28: Wyandot County Air Gunners Step Outside Match, gates open at 9 a.m. and the match begins at 11 a.m., Wyandot County Coon Hunters Club, 12759 Township Highway 133, Nevada. This shoot is free. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-458-0001.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.