On a sunny July Day in 2016, an excited pointing dog named Mack is running over the alpine grass near Eagle summit in Interior Alaska with his nose to the ground. Suddenly he freezes in his tracks, nose pointing at his target - a willow ptarmigan and her brood of six chicks. He's not hunting - Mack and his owner are conducting a high alpine brood survey for ptarmigan. Mack is one of about two dozen pointing dogs that volunteered to work with Fish and Game's Small Game Program to conduct brood surveys for ptarmigan and grouse in Alaska.
The first two to three weeks after a chick hatches is the riskiest. Grouse and ptarmigan broods can suffer 40 to 100 percent mortality depending on weather, predator abundance, food availability, and cover.
Biologists use brood surveys to document chick survival and their recruitment into the population. Recruitment is when young survive and are added to the population. They estimate the number and size of broods, particularly in areas that are heavily hunted. Hunters and managers alike can be much better informed about population productivity by estimating the number and size of broods immediately prior to the hunting season.
By the end of the 2016 season, volunteers had walked nearly 90 miles of survey transects; and logged nearly 500 hours in spring breeding surveys and summer brood surveys. The information collected will help biologists estimate population productivity and provide valuable insight into this popular resource.