The annual tally of ruffed grouse drumming across northern Minnesota was unchanged this year from last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Reported last week.

The statewide average count was 1.5 drums per stop, the same as last year and down from 2.1 drums in 2017.

The survey, in which wildlife experts drive to predetermined spots in the woods and listen for male grouse displaying their spring drumming ritual, range from about 0.6 drums per stop in very poor years to above 2.0 in high population years.

The drumming count is a general accounting of grouse population trends, although brood survival — how many of this year’s newborn chicks survive past summer — is probably a bigger factor in how many grouse that hunters will see in the woods this autumn.

The stagnant drumming count contrasts with Wisconsin which saw a more than 40 percent increase in drumming this spring statewide and a 48 percent increase in Northwestern counties. Male grouse drum, or beat their wings rapidly, often while strutting on a downed log or rock, to attract female mates.

This was the 70th year of the annual DNR survey. Grouse populations generally rise and fall on a 10-year cycle that can range from 8 to 11 years between peaks. The most recent peak population was in 2017 with the population now apparently on the way down. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.6 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 2.1 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.8 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.7 drums per stop.

Meanwhile, the DNR reported Monday an average 10.2 sharp-tailed grouse per lek, or display area, from the annual sharptail spring survey. That’s similar to the long-term average since 1980. Overall sharptail numbers remain very low, however, with far fewer leks than in past decades.

Wisconsin duck numbers stable, geese up

Wisconsin's 2019 spring waterfowl population surveys indicate stable to increased numbers of the main species of breeding waterfowl as well as excellent wetland conditions, which should result in increased waterfowl production this year across most of the state. There were slightly fewer overall birds reported this spring but no change in mallard and wood duck numbers form 2018, the DNR reported last week. There was an increase in teal and Canada geese numbers over 2018.

The Wisconsin breeding duck population estimate of 413,662 represents essentially no change compared to 2018 and is in line with the long-term, 46-year average. North Dakota also reported duck numbers up from a spring survey. Other waterfowl survey results are still pending.

Minnesota DNR fills two key positions

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hired two veteran state government leaders to head the agency’s Fish and Wildlife and Lands and Minerals divisions.

Dave Olfelt, the DNR’s regional wildlife manager for northeastern Minnesota in Grand Rapids, has been named the Fish and Wildlife Division director. Joe Henderson, currently the assistant director for the Lands and Minerals Division overseeing permitting and other regulatory operations, has been named the Lands and Minerals Division director.

Olfelt starts July 15 and will oversee a two-year budget of more than $200 million and a staff of 600 employees. The division ensures that people from all walks of life can enjoy quality fishing on Minnesota's 4,500 managed lakes and 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams; and that they can discover, explore, hunt and enjoy Minnesota's diverse wildlife and the forests, prairies, woods and wetlands on 5.6 million acres of DNR-administered lands.

Olfelt has been with the DNR since 1987. He worked as an assistant area wildlife manager in the southern Twin Cities from 1988 to 1991, managing and restoring prairie and wetland habitats. He worked as a biologist for what was then the agency’s Parks and Recreation Division from 1991 to 2005, and later became assistant regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids for the northeast region until 2010. He moved to the newly created Parks and Trails Division, serving as assistant regional manager for the northeast until 2015, when he became regional wildlife manager.

Henderson will start July 8. he has spent 28 years working at DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He will be responsible for providing real estate services for the management of state lands, overseeing the exploration and use of state-owned minerals, and providing regulatory oversight of ferrous and non-ferrous mining operations. The division has a $13 million annual budget and 100 employees. He served more than 20 years with the MPCA in a variety of leadership capacities focused primarily in the areas of enforcement, permitting, and environmental review.

Cloquet woman wins Tour Divide bike race, again

Alexandera Houchin of Cloquet on Wednesday won the women’s division of the Tour Divide bike race that runs the width of the U.S. from the Canadian border to the Mexican border through the Rocky Mountains with a time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 26 minutes — apparently a new women’s record.

Houchin, 29, also won the women’s Tour Divide title last year with a time of 23 days, 3 hours, and 51 minutes. This was her fourth time pedaling along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The race ran 2,745 miles from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The cyclists are self-supported.

Jared Munch update

As of midweek University of Minnesota Duluth grad Jared Munch was paddleboarding past Ontario's Pukaskwa Provincial Park on his month-long journey from Duluth to the Arctic Ocean.

Munch, who left Duluth on June 17, will soon end his 490-mile venture on Lake Superior and turn north to paddle up the Michipicoten River, eventually portaging over to the Missanabie River, and then paddle down the fast-flowing Missanabie to James Bay, another 380 miles on rivers.

You can follow his progress via satellite uplink at share.garmin.com/JaredMunch. Munch also is raising money for Duluth's Neighborhood Youth Services. Go to gofundme.com and search for SUPerior to Sea — for the Kids!