Mar 16, 2010 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
Last week, we learned that our community’s former claim to fame is thanks to the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area. The New York State Bird Dog Association, founded in 1949, held its first field trial here in 1950, which later became the National Pheasant Shooting Dog Championship. In 1952, Three Rivers hosted three more events including the National Open Pheasant Dog Championship, the American Field Pheasant Dog Futurity and the National Amateur Pheasant Dog Championship.
On Sept. 26, 1957, the Gazette & Farmers’ Journal announced that the association named Baldwinsville the “Pheasant Dog Capital of the World.” William “Bud” Dyer was secretary-treasurer of the NYS Bird Dog Association from 1984 until 2004, when his daughter Mary Ann Schreck assumed the role. I caught up with Bud at his home in Fulton, where he and his wife, Bea, keep two horses out back. As we sipped coffee, the horses pranced around the pasture.
Bud talked about his early bird dog days. “My father always had a bird dog, an English Setter. When I came of age, I got one, too. I ran into a couple of guys that I knew from school up at Three Rivers. We’d throw our names into a hat and run two dogs at a time, what you call a brace. These were just fun events with a group of guys running their dogs and comparing notes. Then, the association got organized to schedule all of these small trials, so that the dates wouldn’t conflict.”
I asked Bud what he liked best about his bird dog years. “I’d have to say that the highlight was seeing the improvement in bird dogs over the years in terms of staunchness, style and intelligence. As long as they point, they’re allowed to compete. But, pointers and setters dominate the trials. A dog is judged by how he attacks the course. He must have stamina and be able to locate a bird at some distance. You want him to hold that point, not flush the bird before the hunter can get there to shoot. He also must be on-point with the tail held high, not lying down. Like her.”
I looked up, and Bud was pointing over my shoulder at a painting on the wall. “Her name was Bandy, an English Setter. She was whelped in 1972. She looks ready to spring, but she wouldn’t move unless or until she was told to do so. She would restrain herself, just like a coiled spring ready to go. She knew when it was time to play and when it was time to be serious. Sometimes when she was on-point, she’d look at you and try to get you to see the bird. But, she wouldn’t move her head, because it was her duty to stand perfectly still. Only her eyeballs would move.”
Bud continued. “The state was very supportive of hunting back then. They raised beautiful mature flying birds, pheasants, out at Three Rivers. Hunters would come here from all over the world and just marvel over the quality of the birds. They liked the grounds, and the birds were a real test of the championship dog. That’s why it became the World Pheasant Dog Capital. But over time, there were fewer and fewer pheasants because the state of farming had changed.” As a result, three of these field trial championships eventually left Three Rivers for greener pastures.
My next stop was at the field office of the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area on Sixty Road. Gary Pratt, senior wildlife biologist was waiting for me. As a light snow fell, Gary and I watched two pheasants outside huddle near my car in a futile attempt to stay warm and dry. “All the birds here are now farm-raised and stocked.”
I asked Gary why the pheasant dog championships left town. “Agricultural practices changed in the 1970s. Early mowing for hay affected the grassland nesting birds, the ones who nest out in the open fields, primarily pheasants. We delay our mowing until July out here just for that reason. Much of the pheasants’ decline is due to loss of their natural habitat. Other birds nest again once their original nest is destroyed, but the pheasants are late nesters. They typically don’t nest until late May or early June, which is now well after the first mowing of spring hay. Farmers weren’t getting their best hay until too late in the season, so they moved it up. It was just a matter of science catching up with the times.”
Gary continued. “The idea now is to maintain open grasslands for those nesting birds. We also mow in strips to create natural habitat for the pheasants and other grassland nesting birds that we stock. They are stocked just prior to the hunting season and throughout the hunting season. We stock about 1,000 pheasants every year, and only 20 percent are harvested by the gun. Less than 1 percent of the rest make it. There are a lot of avian and terrestrial predators of pheasants, like hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes and even housecats. Predation on the stock pheasants is extremely high, especially in years when the coyote population is up.”
“Predator populations are never able to control prey populations. It’s the other way around. When the prey is dwindling, predators either don’t mate, don’t bear young or just bear insignificant numbers. It’s nature’s way of controlling wildlife populations, but sometimes it needs some help. Conservation is about conserving natural resources. Preservation means leaving it alone to see what happens. But there has to be a balance, and that’s where hunting comes in. Biologists use hunting to control population numbers.” It seems to be working well. I’ve seen more pheasants this year than ever before.
Looking Backward will appear in the Messenger every other week, as long as there are stories to tell. If you have questions about this story or suggestions for future ones, including any local historical images or information, please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While we were driving east on Lamson Road last October, my four year-old daughter blurted out that just she saw ‘a big, beautiful bird with a long tail.’ We turned around at Wright’s Corners, and sure enough, this pheasant was poised by the side of the road. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation stocks about 1,000 pheasants at the Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area each fall. Only 20 percent are taken in hunting, but due to natural predation less than 1 percent of the rest live to see the next year.