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Buck of a lifetime gives wife bragging rights

That great flood of irony flowing out of Gold Hill this week is coming from the Garrett family, where spouses Mitch and Nancy Garrett have spun the hunting table on each other.

Nancy Garrett's first buck of her lifetime has turned out to be a buck of a lifetime — a rare non-typical eastern whitetail shot Oct. 1 in Grant County.

The antlers scored 189 points and this week the Garretts received notification that the buck is the new no. 3 of its kind all-time in Oregon, according to the Oregon Record Book of Big Game Animals.

"For 20 years she's cooked in elk camp, dressed down other people's animals and done the dirty work," Mitch Garrett says. "Then here she is, getting herself into the record book with her first buck. It's pretty exciting."

Eastern whitetails are a distinct population of animals in northeast Oregon, remnants of deer that have migrated to Oregon from Idaho. The deer have taken hold in northeast Oregon and most bucks are taken during mule deer hunts.

Pepper Trail and Chris Uhtoff edged Uhtoff's canoe into Kelly Slough on Saturday expecting to see a mess of American robins like they do every Christmas Bird Count.

And this time a mess came in at an estimated 9,000 robins — well below last year's dazzling 50,000 robins as expected, yet still plenty of proof that the Rogue River backwater habitat behind Gold Ray Dam remains robin heaven.

"My prediction came true," says Trail, an Ashland ornithologist and veteran of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society's annual count. "Our estimate was 9,000 robins. That's conservative, but that's still a heck of a lot of robins."

More than 60 people joined Trail and Uhtoff in the Medford version Saturday of the annual counts across North America led by the National Audubon Society.

Broken into 13 teams, they fanned out across habitat within a 15-mile circle from the intersection of highways 140 and 62, identifying 116 species in the process, according to RVAS President Grace Murdoch.

This was the local Audubon chapter's 65th consecutive count, while the parent organization has run bird counts for the past 108 years.

Trail and Uhtoff worked together in Kelly Slough, where a combination of cottonwood habitat and air warmed by the water makes it an ideal roosting area for robins, some of which are wintering here from as far away as Alaska.

Robin counts are down locally this year from last year, so it was not surprising that the pair saw far fewer robins than in 2006.

"There's a lot of year-to-year changes," Trail says.

One change from last year is that the normally frigid weather cooperated, allowing Trail and Uhtoff to spend all their daylight hours counting birds.

Coming back to the dam at dusk, Trail witnessed the robins coming back to roost for the night.

"The whole river bottom was echoing with all the calls," he says.

Upper Rogue River anglers have grumbled all year about the relatively poor showing of salmon and steelhead, and now the proof is in the fish ladder.

Rene Pellissier, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's official Gold Ray Dam fish-counter, says upper Rogue salmon and steelhead runs have hovered around half of the running average this fall.

In a windowed chamber within the dam's lone fish ladder, Pellissier videotaped just 4,330 fall chinook, and the run is officially over. That's just 39 percent of the 10-year average.

Faring a bit better is the run of coho salmon, which stood at 8,607 fish as of Saturday. That's just 47 percent of the 10-year average to date, with just a trickle of coho left to cross the dam and hit the upper Rogue.

The summer steelhead run has fared the best of the fall's three anadromous runs, but its counts still lag. With only 7 percent of the run to go, Pellissier has counted 7,451 fish, or 62 percent of the 10-year average.

Poor ocean conditions in recent years have taken the main blame for declines in both wild and hatchery salmon returns coastwide.

It sure didn't feel like the summer steelhead run was poor Friday at the TouVelle State Park boat ramp.

Cole Rivers Hatchery workers hauled and released 500 excess steelhead captured in the hatchery ponds and returned to the upper Rogue for anglers to catch and keep.

The fin-clipped steelhead have a hole punched into one of their gill plates to show they are one of this year's "retread" steelhead.

Most of the fish dropped downstream to the sewer hole, which is in sight of the ramp.

Anglers are catching these retreads on flies and artificial lures. Bait remains banned downstream of the Shady Cove boat ramp through December.

This is the second and last retread release, says David Pease, the hatchery's assistant manager. ODFW protocols call for no releases after Dec. 15 to curb the straying of hatchery fish onto wild steelhead spawning grounds, Pease says.

Hatchery workers recycled 237 excess steelhead earlier in the season.

Nancy Garrett of Gold Hill shot a rare non-typical eastern whitetail deer Oct. 1 in Grant County.